Zsolt Sarkozi

Published: 15 November, 2007 - Featured in Skin Deep 154, December, 2007

Zsolt Sarkozi is not a man to rush into things. A former sportsman who was ink-free until his 30’s, Zsolt plies his trade in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest. As the proprietor of Dark Arts, Zsolt creates vibrant combinations of fantasy and realism, which are so outstanding that Skin Deep had to seek him out
and discover more…


Zsolt’s first experience of a tattoo studio was at the age of 23, when he visited the only studio in Budapest at the time. His chosen piece was a jolly joker tattoo, and he was almost in the chair when a biker walked into the shop sporting the exact same design! “I immediately gave up on my idea,” says Zsolt, and postponed his idea of getting tattooed for almost a decade. “I think I was 30, when I got my tattoo.  It is very simple: a tribal. First it was done by a guy named Jana who was a good friend and tattooist. After he left the country Boris corrected his ‘lazy’ technique. Besides this I have a tattoo on my inner lip. This was done on September 12th 2001 in New York, in memory of the happenings of the previous day.”    

Returning to the studio where he had his first work done, Zsolt observed that the apprentices were somewhat lacking as artists. “The students at the place were not really good at drawing, and after I inquired about this they at once offered me a position in another studio that was soon to open. The following day I took a client to the studio and made him two tattoos. The guy working there really liked them and introduced me to the owner.” He spent some time here before a friend contacted him with a fresh proposition; “He heard what I was up to, and offered a job in a studio he was about to open. At that time I have been sporting at a professional level for 15 years and I was only able to accept the tattoo work for summer… Man plans, God executes!”

Unfortunately this soon dissolved following disagreements and “a negative atmosphere”. He gathered some money together and travelled to Holland, eager to purchase new machines and inks, as the tattooing industry in his native land was somewhat stunted in its progress. “In those times things went on rather strangely in the country; there were five, maximum six studios in the country and they all used home made machinery and tools.” Upon returning from his trip to The Netherlands, Zsolt’s tattooing career finally began to gather some momentum. “It was at this point that I decided to become a tattoo artist. I went back to the studio to gain some practice (during this time I worked for free). Two weeks later the owner fired the studio manager, as he did not settle the rent and I immediately saw the opportunity and started renting the studio under the same conditions. This is how Dark Art Studios came to be, in 1992.”

Inspiration and Challenges

“I met András Galler, a very talented guy, who (had) also just started tattooing. Together we worked very efficiently; 8 hours of tattooing for work and 8 hours for ourselves on friends, whatever we wanted. We always went in front of challenges, pulled and helped each other. It was very good! We were starving but still we had a great time, because we were creating art”. 

Zsolt concedes that his technical advancements were very gradual as he and the other artists in the area were all relatively self-contained; they had little in the way of external influences. “No one had any real idea about tattoo techniques, we did everything according to our instincts and better judgement. Many years passed this way; it took a long time to evolve. The only things that reached us from the outside world were a few editions of Tattoo Magazine, which we really treasured.” Zsolt believes his eyes were really opened to the potential of what a tattooist can achieve at a convention in Austria, an event that simultaneously inspired and demoralised the budding artist. “The first turning point as a tattoo artist was the Vienna tattoo exhibition around 1997 which I visited with one of my friends. I saw things that shocked and intrigued me at the same time. I saw Tin Tin, Timothy Hoyer, Rob Koss, Claus Fuhrmann and many other famous tattoo artists. Marcus Pacheco’s work (also) hit me really hard. I thought I had good skills when a guy came into my studio with a Marcus Pacheco’s work on him. It was amazing but also shocking at the same time to see such lines, colours, compositions and the professionalism. I looked at it, touched it and couldn’t understand how this was possible. At this point I almost decided to give up tattooing, as the level that they had achieved seemed unreachable for me at the time.” He then spent 10 months in New York at Sacred Tattoo, under the wing of Kate Hellenbrand and continued to perfect his own technique whilst simultaneously indulging in his love of realism. Says Zsolt, “Realistic tattooing has had the largest effect on me, and this style grew out and developed very quickly and had me completely under its spell. I am fond of realistic artistry in general.”

Dark Art

Dark Art Studios is a laid-back affair, with a great deal of freedom afforded to the artists lucky enough to work there. Zsolt firmly believes that this casual approach yields good results. “I know this sounds strange but this has been working perfectly like this for a long time now. My colleagues always joke about the fact that I am the boss at the weekends, when of course we are closed. Our only arguments are about the music and we spend a lot of time together outside of working hours”.    

The work being turned out from Dark Arts is astounding; stunning, vivid pieces that combine Zsolt’s beloved realism with a liberal splash of fantasy, and incredible block colour shading to boot. He’s no slouch with his black and grey work either; the sculpture-like figures he produces are simply magnificent. Upon seeing his portfolio, it’s no surprise that he holds Guy Aitchison in such high esteem. “I think for my generation Guy Aitchison is the one who could show the new technical instructions; he could change a lot of tattoo artist’s mentalities!”

Off Limits

Zsolt is very definitive about what he believes should and shouldn’t be committed to skin. “I do not make tribal, non-figurative or Celtic tattoos as they are very rigid and are my idea of a laborious tattoo. But there are many other things that I do not agree with, e.g. Nazi symbols or plans that would not look nice on the skin. Rarely, very rarely I meet people who are not friendly or I know who will not be good partners in making a tattoo. Nowadays large area tattoos are popular; very few requests arrive for tribal images so this is a good period. My ideal customer is an open-minded person, not too muscular, has no tattoos (and) is not completely sure of what he or she wants, only that it should cover the whole body.” 

Acceptances & Apprentices

Zsolt is pleased to admit that Hungary is following suit with the rest of Europe and the wider world in its acceptance of body art. “Judgement of tattooing has changed positively, especially here in Hungary, and of course the technical innovations like the good inks and supplies. Nowadays, tattooing (is) very popular everywhere, so I think the difference can be only in history: somewhere tattoo is a tradition and part of the people’s life, somewhere it’s a new way for self-expression”. Of course, acceptance is also a good thing for any tattooist, as more people want work and inevitably apprentices must feature somewhere along the line, ensuring the next generation are at least as skilled as the last. Zsolt says, “I don’t teach them, just recommend them to stay at the studio and watch how we work and ask if they have questions. But if I meet talented people I like to find longer time and help them. Now we have in the studio a very talented young girl. She knows what she wants and she learns very quickly. I think she will be a very good tattoo artist.” His advice to any prospective ink-slingers is almost like a mantra… “Find a good teacher, draw a lot, read the books of Aitchison, be patient and be a stayer.”    

So what of the future for Mr Sarkozi and his amazing creations? “I’d like to start going to the conventions in Europe again, to spread the world of Hungarian tattoo artists.” Judging by the standard of work leaving Dark Arts Studios, any budding artist fortunate enough to witness Zsolt’s technique will certainly be capable of consolidating Hungary’s reputation as a home to quality tattooists.



Text: Alex Photography: Zsolt


Skin Deep 154 15 December 2007 154