An Interview with Guy le Tatooer from Sang Bleu issue 6 2013
Guy Le Tatooer has ink in his blood. His father tattoos on the Pacific Island of New Caledonia, and taught his son the trade in 2000. After six years working in the family shop, perfecting Polynesian tattoos, Tatooer relocated to Toulouse, France. His personal style is a mix of cultural reference points. He describes it as .intemporal.. More explicitly, it is a mix of folk traditions and a keen distillation of classic symbols of all global tattooing. Ultimately, he’s into really brutal tattoos with a power impact. Outside of body marking, Tatooer has also experimented with the exhibition of his art in galleries. In 2011, he showed a series entitled .Tattooed Arms. at Paris’ La Galerie Gimple & Muller,
a literal interpretation of tattoo art. He employed silicon arms, mounted in frames, to focus attention on how icons fit on the body. Tatooer, works with Rafel Delalande, another artist who has helped popularize bold, black articulations of traditional motifs. You might call this .educated traditional,. As the idea of the icon is privileged and given voice in the rawest, most direct form.
Where do you come from? Where did you grow up? What kind of environment was it? What where you like as a child ?
I grew up, or at least I spent my adolescence (until the age of 16), in the Basque country. My father was a tattooer there, he had few shops between France and Spain. My mother is a painter, so I evolved between her studio and the tattoo shops where I prepared the transfers and even did the reception. I was young, so I wasn’t really talkative, I’m still not but back then it was hell. I was a quiet kid with not many troubles. I was skating with my mates, messing around. We took some drugs, we thought a lot about chicks! My life wasn’t really typical in the Basque country. With my father tattooing and riding a Harley, nobody wanted to mess with me, but I couldn’t really fool around.
When did you start considering tattooing as a practice? Did you study? When did you realise that tattooing was your thing? How did you learn to tattoo?
I skipped out of school and left school at 16, it wasn’t for me at all, I had the ability to carry on at school but that wasn’t the problem for me. Many people around me didn’t study and were doing well, so I didn’t see the point in continuing and nobody made a big deal about it. At that time the problem was more the drugs, they were supplanting school. Then my parents were splitting up. My mother left with an other guy. I left home, just living here and there! They were fucked up years, I spent about two years getting high . At 18 I met a girl and I moved abroad with her to stop doing shit. She was a fucked up girl though! I needed to get out of the relationship, so I decided to join my father, who had moved to New Caledonia and I finally began to tattoo at 19. I had already tattooed a bit before. I think my first line was at 13 and my first tattoo was at about 16. That was a bad idea by the way! Tattooing was for me a way out of my life, it was a very serious and real job. And the day I decided to do it, I did it for real. My father was a real tyrant with me, learning was tough. I spent few years in New Caledonia, 5 or 6 years to learn the basics and tattoo some Polynesians. Then another girl came along, and I moved to Australia. Another fucked up girl again! And the circle is now complete… I’m moving back to France.
What were your main inspirations in tattooing ?
I discovered the tattoo world at a very young age so of course I was immediately fascinated by it and I still am, especially by people like LEU, TIN TIN, KEA, HERNANDEZ, PAUL BOOTH and many others! They did such crazy work and there weren’t many people doing it back in those days. It was amazing. I spent hours reading magazines and trying to understand it all. I loved it so much back then.
Are you interested in art besides tattooing and if so what in particular ?
Not really. Many things can move me though. I’m sensitive, but I haven’t got a real interest in art culture so I couldn’t say that I’m really into it. Things can resonate with me but I cannot articulate it in any particular way.
How did you meet Raf?
Raf came in for a tattoo. I thought he was really cool and I told him that he should come work with us. We’ve worked together for seven years now. Which is great.
You travel a lot and cultivate a furtive way of life which characterises many tattooers. What is the importance of mystery and dream in tattooing culture and your own life?
I think traveling is essential. It governs my life, and has done forever actually, so for me it’s crucial to understanding how things work, otherwise you’re not able to evolve and open yourself to the world. You need real human relationships and
people forget that more and more nowadays! So basically there is no mystery for me, I don’t improve this mysterious way of life, it’s just that I’m not evolving in the internet world in a normal way so I’m a ghost for most people! But the dream is important in tattooing as it is in music or many other things. We need to dream, but I think that it disappears and idols go away because everybody can tell their lives on the web, you can’t imagine anymore how they are. There is no gap in between because my life is included in what I do! I’ve always been inside, I don’t even think about it. It’s not just fun for me, or a trendy thing because it’s cool, it’s very serious!
In some way, you are now associated to a new school of tattoo which inspires a lot of popular arts from occidental tradition, graphic design and contemporary art, and this captures a more clever and larger audience. Is it something that you are aware of? What is your position about it ?
Not really, I think it’s just a school of passionate people. If you do things with your guts, that you really get involved in, you will do something good, or maybe not that good, or even maybe completely shitty, but it will be real and authentic and for me that’s what defines the art—the feeling, that you will find in it, the thing that will move you. So why this more than that ? This is where it gets interesting and I think that’s what defines this new school: Involved people.
Does your clientele change from one country to another ? And if so, how ?
Not really because obviously they move as much as me. Everybody is moving, meeting each other here and there. I tattoo French people in London and British in Paris, so let’s say we are all in the same boat.
You just came back from a long trip in Thailand. How was it ? Do you have interesting anecdotes?
I met a lot of great people and there are many good stories, but the best one would probably be leaving with three of us and ending up as 2 for the rest of the trip, after only 5 days and a strange party in Bangkok. I am going to go each year and even if the country evolves strangely, almost at the verge of bursting, people have this particular soul which defines Buddhist Asia in general.
What are you plans for the close future ?
Nothing precise besides moving out to a big house in the countryside.
And in the distant future?
Keep on going!