The dark side of Jack Ribeiro

Published: 01 November, 2007 - Featured in Skin Deep 153, December, 2007

The often-smiling artist Jack Ribeiro is with Tin-Tin, one of the top artists of France. He lives in a small village in the northeastern part of the country where he runs two studios: one in Metz and the other in Thionville, 40 kilometres north of Metz. Ribeiro is well known in Europe for his dark style, inspired by Robert Hernandez.


I saw Ribeiro tattooing during the Amsterdam convention but the first time I spoke with him was during the convention in the picturesque town of Vianden, Luxembourg. There he showed me two portraits in black & grey of Kerry King and Tom Araya, the guitarists from Slayer. He also showed me a backpiece he had created, inspired by the seminal film-noire feature The Crow. It’s absolutely remarkable; Ribeiro summarizes the atmosphere of the movie in one tattoo. It’s realistic but dark, and tattooed with much creative license!   

To visit Jack Ribeiro in his studio in Thionville I travelled from Vianden through the dark green hills and woods of Luxembourg to the border with France. From there it’s only 40 kilometres to Thionville, beautiful located on the banks of the river Mosel. When I entered the studio in the shopping centre of Thionville I saw no tattoo flash on the walls, only Ribeiro’s colour paintings of both fantasy and portrait subjects.


External Influences
Ribeiro lives with his wife and daughter in Sierck-les-Bains, a village of 1500 inhabitants near Thionville. “It’s a town like Vianden with an old castle. It’s a magic place,” he says.    

In Sierck-les-Bains Ribeiro had his first studio. It was here that he started to tattoo subjects such as roses and panthers. “But I didn’t like to tattoo that. Therefore I changed to tattooing tribal and portraits of animals. But after a while I was getting bored with that too. Then I started to pierce. Because I wanted to learn that well, I almost stopped tattooing.”    

By meeting Robert Hernandez in Madrid, Ribeiro returned to tattooing and opened a studio in Metz. Jack: “Hernandez tattooed me. After that he said to me, ‘Why did you stop tattooing? That’s a pity’. I told him that I didn’t want to tattoo commercial tattoos, I wanted something else. He understood me and proposed I start anew and develop my own style. I noticed that his dark style came close to what I wanted myself. I’m inspired by the way he works with shadow and light.”


In Developing his own Dark Style, Ribeiro's Tattooing Life was Reborn
“I met Tin-Tin in 2002 at a convention in Strasbourg. He encouraged me to work more and more at conventions to find my own customers.” During that time, Ribeiro hadn’t many customers but because of the fact Tin-Tin recommended him, he got more and more work. “Because of that I opened a studio in Thionville and engaged personnel; my former apprentice Judy Mancinelli, who specializes in Japanese tattoos and David & Son, who are specialized just like me in dark style and portraits. My wife is piercing in my studio in Metz. One day a week I also pierce there because of the fact that people want to be pierced by me.”  


Dark Style        
Jack shows me some photographs of his tattoos, such as an image of an African woman with a lip saucer, and a design from the cartoon X-Men. This tattoo is in colour, but colour is an exception in Ribeiro’s work as most of his tattoos are in black & grey. He also shows me a tattoo of two dollar bills. Instead of the face of George Washington I see the face of a skull. “I made this tattoo up on a customer who works in a bar. For this guy it’s a symbolic tattoo because he is living on tips,” Jack says. “The skull gives the tattoo her dark character”.    

When I ask Jack why he is so attracted to the dark style, he answers: “When you look at a nice image, you first think: ‘Oh, that’s nice’ but after a while you forget the tattoo. But when you see something dark or obscure, it’s more impressive; it stays in your mind. Therefore I prefer the dark style for my tattoos and paintings.”   

“As a person I am someone who often has a smile on his face but when you see my designs, you say: ‘Whoa, how obscure!’ “I know they contrast each other. Of course I am able to paint nice things but that I do for my daughter. The figures in my tattoos and paintings are sombre. At the other hand they are also vivacious; you will always find realistic elements in them.”


Is Jack inspired by the tattoos of Booth? “In the beginning yes, but his style is quite different from mine” he says. “I am more inspired by Hernandez, he is my mentor. At the moment I want to change my style in another direction. The work of Hernandez is so strong. It’s difficult to tattoo like him but it’s also difficult to get away from his influence. But now I draw and make designs everyday to find a new direction. And I reflect much upon my designs and about the little stories in my head. I was used to look to the work of Paul Booth, Hernandez and also to the paintings of Beksinski, a Polish artist but I don’t do that anymore. For me that’s the best way to find a new direction in tattooing.”


Ribeiro also tattoos and paints portraits, although he doesn’t do that as often as before. “I make them mostly because it’s good for your technique. But there is no creativity involved in making a portrait; you’re copying mostly from a photograph. What I really want is to realize a portrait that comes out of my fantasy, made with my imagination.” He uses his imagination in a superb way for his sleeves and backpieces. Jack: “When I make a sleeve, I do that freehand. With a backpiece it’s better to make a sketch before working out the details.”


Twisting Religion
Ribeiro shows me a photograph of a design that he tattooed on the left arm of a young Italian customer: a Madonna with the face of a skull and two little babies. “I made this tattoo during the convention in Milan. The customer said to me: ‘In Italy, religion is very important but I want something anti-religious because for me religion is a passed station.” After this Ribeiro shows me two other tattoos that deal with religion. The first one is a tattoo in the biomechanical style. “It’s a fantasy-tattoo with Jesus, Mary, an angel and evil. It’s a mix of religion with the dark style. Many customers want to be tattooed by me because of this mix. But myself, I am not anti-religious. I design the tattoo because the customer wants it.” On another tattoo I see the Pope, not alive but dead. It’s the dark side of religion. Jack: “When my father-in-law saw this tattoo, he said to me; ‘you have to stop with it, it’s not good for your life’. I don’t agree, as I don’t have problems
with it.”


Biomechanics and Giger
Jack Ribeiro likes to create biomechanical tattoos. “I like biomechanical because of the futuristic character. The mechanic things in the tattoos express an uncontrollable desire for eternal life,” he says about this. “A big inspiration for me is the Swiss artist Giger.” He shows me a photograph of a backpiece that is comprised of designs by Giger. “The customer who wanted this tattoo entered the studio without any ink on his body. He said to me: ‘I only want one tattoo, on my back! And I want Giger’. The tattoo consists of seven different designs of Giger. I made a composition of them and in the tattoo I mixed Giger with my own style. I made a sketch of the composite and showed that to the customer.”   

After showing me the photograph of this tattoo, Ribeiro wanted to express his philosophy about life, about the fact that tattooing is not everything. “It’s important for me that after I finish tattooing I can spend time with my family. For a lot of tattoo artists only tattooing is important, but for me my private life with my family comes first, after that comes tattooing and painting. For me a good private life is good for my art. If you are only working, your art cannot be good.”



I’d been a fan of Jack for ages and finally got to meet him at the Derby convention. After a 100-mile drive I was glad to get out of the car and walk (well, jitter) from the one-way system in the rain. We finally reached the State of the Art convention in Derby and I wandered over to the stage where Jack sat enthusiastically tattooing away. His customer seemed relieved for a break when I introduced myself. He’d had 4 hours on his thigh…so far! Jack seemed happy though.   

His kind humour shone through, and after battling between the French and English language Jack and I finally got an interview sorted.
I always wonder what peoples first memories are of a tattoo. What was
yours Jack?

I discovered tattooing at a very early age. Being a fan of Rock ‘n’ Roll and metal this developed. I was interested in this art without ever imagining I would ever put it into practice.

What was the first tattoo you actually worked on then?

My first tattoo was on a cranium; I did it with hand lifting on a tattooist. This was whom I came to assemble the basis of the trade with. I liked it immediately and it gave me a deep desire to explore all the possibilities of this art.

What a way to start! Had you had any training previously to this?

My basic training is as a draftsman; this has helped me greatly to develop the patience I need for my work.

I believe you started out doing the peircing in your studio, can you explain this for us?

This is difficult to explain! 13 years ago when I had started I started for traditional reasons. This quickly annoyed me. It was restricting. Thus I felt I needed to pass onto something else. I discovered piercing made it possible for me to see another approach to the body. To do this correctly I reduced my time of tattooing by half. Then I had to be selective in what I tattooed, this being the things that I liked. Today I continue to respect customers who want either a tattoo or a piercing. Yet conventions do enable me to fulfil my desires of tattooing. 


You did seem happy at the Derby convention! If I remember correctly you were on stage beside Milosch and Terry Fuller. Do you find you use a lot of your own designs or do you prefer testing yourself with other peoples?

I am glad to see that people like our drawings… But I am very interested in the creativity behind it all. Thus I like to examine other tattoos and designs.

Whilst examining other people’s work and designs, have you found anyone you’d like to do collaborate with?

This question is hard, because there are several artists that are brilliant with whom I’d love to collaborate a piece with. Here you go, here’s my list. There’s Milosch, Boris, Alex West, Victor Portugal, Tommy Lee and many, many more!

What inspires your art though apart from those you have just mentioned?

At the beginning my inspiration came mainly from artists like Giger, Beksinski, Robert Hernandez and Paul Booth. But now I try to create my own style and am influenced by that which surrounds me. The daily newspaper can even be a source. Although music does take an important place in my creativity. In fact it’s part of the environment for my drawings. Bands like Tool, Alice in Chains, Opeth, Katatonia and lots of others.

Do you have anything that gets you annoyed about the tattoo world?

The world of tattooing evolves and moves very quickly. So maintaining it. Tattoo belongs to the modern art! Its evolution promises beautiful things to us. There is so much more to be seen in the future and especially in the techniques field!!!! No limit!

With such a busy schedule how do you relax?

My priority in life is my family. Thus I occupy the time of my wife (Peggy), and daughter (Ilona) as much and as often as possible. They are my reason for living and it is for them I still have the strength to evolve and move.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

The climax of my career was the meeting of large artists that make me envy their trade. Like: Robert Hernandez, Paul Booth, Boris, Milosch, Tin-Tin, Giger and more. They are the current bases of tattoo and merit a larger respect. I am conscious of the chance that I have to know them!




Text: Rik Van Boeckel, Cath & Jon @ Photography: Jack Ribeiro and Rik Van Boeckel


Skin Deep 153 1 December 2007 153