The Bone House

Published: 20 July, 2012 - Featured in Skin Deep 214, July, 2012

Not being ones to let a little language barrier stand in the way of some good art, we set Tom Abbott off on the trail of Ukrainian artists Alex, Ien and Kostya from Bone House to see what he could make of it, Nice work Sir!  

It was Ien Levin’s black line-work that led me to seek out the artists behind Bone House in the Ukraine. Equal parts mysterious and humourous, Ien, Alex and Kostya are keeping the dark arts alive and well through their unique and varying tattooing talents. Alex even went as far as saying that he’s forgotten everything that came before he picked up a tattoo machine, whilst on the other hand, Ien remembers his childhood well but his memories are of staying indoors and drawing, unlike all the other kids. These are driven artists.

Bone House was founded in 2011 by Ien and Kostya; Alex joined them this year. When I was looking at pictures of the tattoo studio, I couldn’t help but be drawn into this idea that perhaps the Ukraine had this whole untapped tattoo culture that I wasn’t aware of, so I asked the two of them if the Ukraine was hiding something… “There is no tattoo culture in the Ukraine” they responded in unison. So what is it then that drives their art? The best thing to do is to just look at it… the lines and the dots – geometry at work.    

Alex has always been attracted to crafts. “I think that hand-crafted things are the most beautiful; that was what made me decide to start tattooing.” And whilst Ien was visiting his friend’s studio (Bright Ink) to celebrate the anniversary of his shop, he met Alex who was working there at the time. They drank a bottle of cognac together and became fast friends, realising they had a similar vision, leading to Alex joining Ien at Bone House.  

I asked them both to describe their individual styles. “I’m working in ornamental, dot work, sacred geometry and black and grey. In the future I want to try some traditional tattoo techniques like a hand-poking method,” Alex responded. And Ien: “It’s a mixture of natural themes, sacred geometry, dot work, engravings, etc. I use only black ink.” Those final words of Ien’s hit the core of what they’re really doing. They’re bringing the most natural and age-old of colours to the forefront of their tattooing, and doing wonderful things with it. “Bring back more black!” Alex concludes… and as I continue looking at their work, I couldn’t help but nod along with this statement.    

Their views on how tattooing has changed and is perceived in the 21st century, is thatit is something that is continually evolving and cannot be defined.  And as I finish my short but intriguing interview with Alex and Ien, I can’t help but start to plan making my way back Bone House to get tattooed by the two of them, continuing and evolving my own personal journey into black ink.

Down With The Kids

During the research of this, I wondered why it’s referred to as The Ukraine and not simply Ukraine. Here’s what the good old internet had to offer:
It goes back to soviet times were the soviets wanted Ukraine to be looked on as some geographical area of Russia. Like we say in Britain, The Cotswolds or The North Ridings. So when the Beeb would interview a Russian Diplomat for instance, he would say The Ukraine and the Beeb correspondents would parrot it evermore.


Text: Tom Abbott; Photography: Bone House