International Brussels Convention 2012

Published: 03 January, 2013 - Featured in Skin Deep 220, January, 2013

Belgium? Hmm… not a country normally known around these parts as being somewhere to drop into your calendar every year when it comes to tattooing, but maybe that’s only because we’ve not been looking properly…

You can take the man out of the UK but the rain will follow regardless. I haven’t been to Brussels for about 20 years. I forgot it had the same kind of climate as the UK – thus, the Eurostar came to halt and threw me out on a street that only that looked slightly familiar where my default ‘I’m in mainland Europe’ language of rudimentary Spanish didn’t work so well. It wouldn’t be an adventure if it was easy, would it?

There’s no better way of finding your way around a strange city than walking to where you’re going. Sure you could get a cab, but treading the streets and taking in the cafes, bars, and, er, tyre replacement joints, will give you a much better idea of what kind of culture you’re dealing with. Actually, that’s a lie – I did get a cab to the hotel and then I walked. No point in spending the whole of your first day walking around simply to find your bed and then have to get in it.

Tours & Taxis – the venue for said convention – is an easy find. Locate the river (or it might be a canal actually), cross the bridge and there’s a sign as big as the moon letting you know that you didn’t screw up your journey. What I was surprised by on arrival, but I’m not entirely sure why, was the size of the queue on the opening Friday. It was great to see – Kim (show honcho) had put a lot of work into this – and it’s only in hindsight that I get the surprise. In the UK, if you check out a queue to get into a show, there’s always a huge percentage of visibly tattooed people. Here – and it’s not the only place I’ve seen it in Europe – the visitors are a little more discreet, or maybe ‘private’ is a better word. They’re no less enthusiastic though, that’s for sure.

The show itself is deceptively large and planned on the floor to within an inch of its life. With the trade stalls mixed in with the artist booths, it was easy to find something new at every turn of a corner. First impressions? This was going to be a good show… and it was. Over the following three days I bumped into some familiar faces, which is always a good port of call to get some kind of reference point. Remis and Anabi found themselves with neighbouring booths, both producing stunning work as always. Further up the same block, Bez was pounding out another masterpiece (probably at the flick of a wrist), while across the hall the awesome Victor Modafferi kicked out some hard jams too.

It was good to see some people at work I’ve not bumped into before – people like Joe Wang from 8 Volts; Aaron Bell and Pawel Jankowski. This would be a long list and word count restrictions mean it would be foolish to name the entire artist list (you can find it yourself at, but the important thing is, that for three days, the show was like a beehive. People came and went only to be replaced by more people. And not just any people either, great people who were friendly and talkative, swearing to stay in touch, which brings me on to the subject of shame. The shame of being in a European city and not knowing the basics of the language. You know what? It didn’t matter one scrap. Well, maybe a little here and there, but most of the people out there, both working and as customers, speak English better than most people in the UK. It’s probably criminal that we’re let out of education without even the basics of conversational French, German or Italian… I bow to your superior mastery of my mother tongue people of Europe. Well, actually my mother tongue is Welsh, but that only counts when I go home and even that’s up for debate. This is important because if you think a European show might not be for you, you’re dead wrong. It couldn’t be any easier if it was in your garden.

But that’s not all… need a smooth hair cut? Done. Need an insanely huge beehive for that matter? Done. Need some custom art? Done. Want three dudes to all work on your backpiece at the same time? Done.

This was a seriously enjoyable convention. Brussels might only be three years into the international circuit, but man it kicks royal ass. Roll on Summer Ink Fest (and that would be in Genk). See you there…

If you’ve got an ipad handy and are brandishing the Skin Deep app, you can check out some video we shot at the show courtesy of the king of swing,
Dirk Behlau.

The Venue

Courtesy of Lonely Planet, here’s the venue in a nutshell: Brussels’ canal quarter has long languished, but the area (about 600m northwest of Yser metro station) is being given a new lease of life thanks to the regeneration of these old canalside warehouses and customs depots. Built over a century ago by the Tour et Taxis family, who founded Belgium’s postal service, today the buildings are being transformed into the Tour & Taxis complex, hosting temporary exhibitions (such as Star Wars), and harbouring a growing collection of industrial-chic shops, bars and restaurants. The renovations are part of an ambitious blueprint to rehabilitate the entire canal quarter.

The Art Scene

The city has had a renowned artist scene for many years. The famous Belgian surrealist, René Magritte, for instance, studied in Brussels. The city was also home of Impressionist painters like Anna Boch from the Artist Group Les XX. The city is also a capital of the comic strip; some treasured Belgian characters are Lucky Luke, Tintin, Cubitus, Gaston Lagaffe, and Marsupilami. Throughout the city, walls are painted with large motifs of comic book characters. The totality of all these mural paintings is known as the Brussels’ Comic Book Route which is very cool. Also, the interiors of some Metro stations are designed by artists. The Belgian Comics Museum combines two artistic leitmotifs of Brussels, being a museum devoted to Belgian comic strips, housed in the former Waucquez department store, designed by Victor Horta in the Art Nouveau style.


Text: Sion Smith; Photography: Dirk Behlau