East of Eden - Craigy Lee

Published: 27 April, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 211, May, 2012

It’s pretty hard slipping back into a normal way of life after travelling for the last year-and-a-half. I hadn’t even unpacked my bag before I decided I wouldn’t be stopping for long…

After driving the length and breadth of Australia, all of a sudden Europe doesn’t seem such a daunting size. Sure they drive on the wrong side of the road and speak different languages, but they tattoo the same as the rest of the world. And there are so many tattoo conventions from as close as our bordering France, to as far east as Romania and beyond.

I returned to England to weather I hadn’t experienced for some time, arriving home in the middle of winter was possibly not the best plan. Yet I had plenty of things to keep me busy – the daunting task of locating a vehicle to take to Europe was high on the agenda. I decided upon buying a van and turning it into my very own tattoo tour bus, I figured if I was going to tattoo my way across Europe, the only way to do it was by road. Flying is for those fancy folk who get paid too much. Driving gives a freedom no other means of travel can, being able to stop whenever and wherever you want, seeing the sights and experiencing each country to its fullest.

But getting back to the grand van plan, my Dad fits kitchens and bathrooms for a living, one of my brothers is a carpenter and the other an electrician, so with their help and guidance we managed to transform a ford transit into a decent living space to hit the road with. During the build process in the UK I worked a guest spot at the lovely Needlework Tattoo, which meant I was close enough to home to work on the van on my days off. Though in actuality, my rather skilled Dad and siblings did most of the work, for which I am very thankful!

It was finished only seven hours before we left the UK; as the final drops of sealant dried and newly laid flooring adjusted, we pulled into the Euro Tunnel. After getting off in Calais we drove through France, Belgium, Germany and Austria before arriving at our first stop, Budapest in Hungary. As we drove further East the temperature started dropping and we started seeing the grey harsh reality of Eastern Europe. Entering the City we drove past many tattoo shops which advertised hourly ‘special rates’ of 5,000 Hungarian forint, sounds a lot but in actuality that’s just under £15.

The convention is held in Lurdy Haz, which we puzzlingly discovered was a shopping centre, however once we got inside there was a decent sized exhibition space fully kitted out on the second floor, and it seemed to make sense to Hungarians as it was really busy. The convention was two days long and had many Hungarian artists working, the most renowned of which was probably Gege who works at Boris Tattoo. There were artists from Germany, Switzerland and Austria as well as a couple from America and Australia.

The international presence was pretty small, but the show is in its second year and is the only show in Hungary, so the whole convention thing is rather new to the locals, many of whom just turned up to wander around and see what the heck was going on. But there was a keen crowd of younger tattoo collectors eager to get a small tattoo from each of the international artists, many of whom had adjusted their prices slightly to be more affordable. The most popular style here definitely seems to be realistic and surreal work, portraits done in a Salvador Dali style with lots of colour, soft tones and shading seemed to be the order of the day. Some of the locals complained to me that “there are no shops here that specialise in old school work, we have to travel so far to get that kind of thing done”, but for me personally it was nice to be somewhere that had a different flavour to the artwork. I met some very lovely people over the weekend, and I think tattooing here will come on leaps and bounds as conventions grow and become more popular. It’s worth remembering that up until very recently this was a communist country, but it’s a fantastic city to visit regardless!

After a few days seeing the sights and relaxing in the very decorative city spas, tapped from the natural hot springs, which make Budapest so famous, we hit the road again. Driving back through Austria, we made a brief stop in Salzburg and then headed up to Germany and Leipzig where my next convention was taking place.

Leipzig is in eastern Germany, about an hour south of Berlin, and try as I might to learn the language I just can’t get my head around it all. There’s a saying here, ‘life is too short to learn German’ – even the artists from western Germany tell me they find the dialect here hard to understand – still, we get by and have a busy and enjoyable weekend. The convention was a lot larger than the previous weekend, though most of the artists working the weekend were from Germany.

Held in a huge hall that is rather like a warehouse, it’s big and dark with huge steel beams holding up a corrugated metal roof, with disco lighting illuminating the whole place giving the weekend an atmosphere more like a gig or club. There was a giant indoor stage with bands playing throughout the day culminating with an AC/DC cover band… at least music is a universal language!

With a queue of people outside before the doors open, Saturday was extremely well attended. I spent the day doing lots of small token tattoos. Then Sunday rolled along with a fashion show and dancers onstage throughout the day, but again I find myself doing lots of smaller tattoos. I’m not sure if this is because of the people’s tastes or the fact I don’t speak much German, either way I’m not complaining.

People were friendly and made an effort to help you with the language, and people seemed to appreciate the fact we had travelled to be here so an enjoyable weekend is had. I am looking forward to returning to Germany to work more shows over the coming months, as well as getting to take in some more of its charm, and dare I say it, beer!


Text & Photography: Craigy Lee