One Man Army - Guil Zekri

Published: 06 February, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 208, February, 2012

At the age of 18, Israeli-born Guil Zekri, left high school like every other kid of that age usually does. But then he did something very few 18-year-olds around the world do, he joined the army. Guil served as a Marine Paramedic in the Israeli Army, one of the world’s toughest and most respected armies.

I cannot say I enjoyed the army, but I don’t regret it. My job in the army opened a door to work abroad and at one stage, I volunteered to go on a mission to Rwanda at the time of the massacre in 1995. I stayed there for some months as a paramedic in a field hospital. I was also in Goma, Congo, which was a very interesting experience that I think I have only just got over, ten years later. Coming back from the Congo, I decided that Israel was a bit too ‘small’ and I decided to go to the States. I spent a year in New York and Los Angeles.”

So at the age of 22, and with three years of seeing some of the worst the world had to offer, and a year hanging in America, Guil, decided to head to Paris and study.

“School was too expensive in Israel, so Paris it was. I studied philosophy and art aesthetics where I got my bachelors plus two academic master years. That was an amazing time. I never learnt how to paint or to draw, during that time, but I learnt how to observe an art piece from all aspects.”

I got into tattooing by accident really. I always had painted and had done music and art, or at least I thought that I was doing art! But anyway, I was always interested in art and music.

“I was 17 when I got my first tattoo. It is a piece based on the cover art of one of the albums by the band, Suffocation. It was originally painted by Dan Seagrave. I think that that was an important moment as I think that the tattooing influence started there. My second tattoo was also by Seagrave, but this time for the band, Obituary. The motives for the tattoos, don’t really say anything, it was pure aesthetics, but the bands, I loved this type of music and love it still. And I got a lot more tattoos in the meantime.

“I was quite involved in the tattoo scene, but I had never really thought I could be a tattoo artist. I was also concentrating more on music at the time. I really wanted to be a death metal star! Maybe I just was not sure of myself enough to start tattooing. From Paris I went to Germany where I started tattooing in a small town called Munster. What a culture shock! I went to Germany because life in Paris was hard, with me having no job and it is an expensive town. I found a job in a tattoo studio. It was not a real apprenticeship; the deal was drawing knowledge against tattoo knowledge and it worked. So the tattooing all began in Munster, eight-and-a-half years ago! I left Munster after ten months, moved to Cologne and worked there for three years, before opening my own tattoo studio, Reinkarnation, about four-and-a-half years ago.”

Guil opened Reinkarnation with a business partner that he had met in Cologne and the studio quickly expanded, attracting more and more clients.
“We worked together for three years before we decided to open Reinkarnation. We were working in a small cellar shop for two years, but now we are in a bigger and much nicer studio, and we have three more artists working with us. The concept was very simple, try to do as many beautiful tattoos as possible. That was the central idea. I really try to be as creative as possible, I never repeat my work and I try to work on every style while adapting it to my style. I think that every idea can become a great tattoo, depending on how you work the theme out. Though I find the most interesting theme for me is the fantasy realistic stuff. That’s how I work so it just fits my style across the two mediums.

“The studio provides all styles of tattoos and I enjoy the fact that the guys that work with me have different styles. This really moves tattooing forward for me. There are a lot of different perspectives to tattooing and the influence is mutual. We also have many guest artists in the studio and I find each one brings something new to learn with them. This is one of the things that I really enjoy in tattooing.”

Guil’s paintings are very dynamic, drawing the viewer in instantly. There is a mix of traditional schools of painting, along with his own influences, making for some brilliant surrealist images.

“Painting is very important for me in the moment. I have always painted. I paint with oil on canvas as I really enjoy the medium very much. My style is very baroque and I love the 15-17th century artists. I am very influenced by this period. I work on religious and figurative images and I like to give the viewer something to think about when they look at my paintings; like a small message hidden within. I really try to separate my painting from my tattoo work as they work in different ways for me. When I am painting, I am only with myself. I can allow myself the time to work with the material and pigments in layers, and the concept is mine only. Working in the tattoo medium, you share the process with your customer. I think that by separating the two mediums, the influence on each other is even stronger.”

And not content with keeping his creative force within the visual arts, Guil is also expanding his output to music.

“At the moment I’m working on a debut album. I have a band called, The Living Room, and it’s some kind of melancholic prog-rock. We will record the first album in February or March. I will be doing backing vocals, texts, bass, sitar and programing. We are aiming to try and get a nice organic sound.”

With so much on the go, Guil seems to be keeping all his options open, while at the same time, making a mark on the tattooing world – something that seems quite easy to this man of many talents.

“My future plans are not 100 percent at the moment, but of course I will continue tattooing. Maybe one more artist will join us at the studio, we will see. I definitely want to paint more; I feel that my tattoos are somehow technically stronger than my paintings, and I would like to improve that. At the moment, I’m working on some sketches for a much more complicated series of paintings. I am really going to try to work a much bigger canvas and have many more figures in the scene. I am working around the idea of, ‘David & Goliath’, but with a surreal touch to it. I am really excited to take my work onto a new level.

“I have also been thinking about maybe doing a book and some conventions are planned for the end of the year. So I definitely have a busy year planned for me. Like I said earlier, the band will be recording in February or March and we have already started to work on some new material for a second album, so I guess we will be looking forward to some concerts in spring as well.”

In The Army Now part 1

The Spartan Army was one of the earliest known professional armies. Boys were sent to a barracks at the age of seven to train for being a soldier. At the age of 30 they were released from the barracks and allowed to marry and have a family. After that, men devoted their lives to war until their retirement at the age of 60. Unlike other civilizations, whose armies had to disband during the planting and harvest seasons, the Spartan serfs or helots, did the manual labor.

This allowed the Spartans to field a full-time army with a campaign season that lasted all year. The Spartan Army was largely composed of hoplites, equipped with arms and armour nearly identical to each other. Each hoplite bore the Spartan emblem and a scarlet uniform. The main pieces of this armor were a round shield, a spear and a helmet.

In The Army Now part 2

In the earliest Middle Ages it was the obligation of every aristocrat to respond to the call to battle with his own equipment, archers, and infantry. This decentralized system was necessary due to the social order of the time, but could lead to motley forces with variable training, equipment and abilities. The more resources the noble had access to the better his troops would be.

In The Army Now part 3

The Romans were also noted for making use of auxiliary troops, non-Romans who served with the legions and filled roles that the traditional Roman military could not fill effectively, such as light skirmish troops and heavy cavalry. After their service in the army they were made citizens of Rome and then their children were citizens also. They were also given land and money to settle in Rome. In the late Roman Empire, these auxiliary troops, along with foreign mercenaries, became the core of the Roman Army; moreover, by the time of the late Roman Empire, tribes such as the Visigoths were paid to serve as mercenaries.

Guil Zekri

Brüsselerstr. 17
50672 Cologne

0049 (0) 221 55402693


Text: Trent Aitken-Smith; Photography: Guil Zekri