mardi 16 février 2010

Tattoo Fest magazine interview

Tattoos done by Safwan, Imago studio, Montréal

Le magazine polonais Tattoo Fest fera paraitre sous peu l'entrevue qui suit dans ses pages. Comme la plupart d'entre vous n'auront probablement pas accès à cette publication qui sera de toute façon livrée en polonais, j'ai pris la liberté de la mettre en ligne.
Tattoo Fest est un des plus beaux magazines de tatouage en Europe et certainement le plus actif en Europe de l'Est. J'y ai remarqué une recherche et une volonté de dresser un panorama du tatouage contemporain de partout dans le monde. Ce mois-ci notre ami californien Adam Turk ( y est d'ailleurs présenté.
Merci à BamBam et Tattoo Fest pour leur intérêt.

The polish magazine Tattoo Fest will soon publish the following interview. And since most of you might not be able to get the mag, that will be printed in polish anyway, I took the liberty to put it online.
Tattoo Fest is one of the good publications in Europe and definitely the most dynamic one hailing from Eastern Europe. I can truly see a stong will on their part to feature good contemporary tattooing from all over the world. This month our friend Adam Turk from California's featured in it (
Many thanks to BamBam and the Tattoo Fest team for their interest.

1. Safwan. An introductory word from you. Hi, my name is… type of thing.
Hey, my name is Safwan, I've been tattooing since 1994. I've opened Imago studio in Montreal in the spring of 1997. I always felt my tattoo studio had to be a place of professional integrity and artistic growth. I tattoo full time, travel for conventions and guest spots and build tattoo machines whenever I can.

2. What kind of tattoos do you like to do best?
I like to do anything that's illustrative and seems to tell a bit of a tale. I like asian as well as traditional tattoo imagery of course, but also ancient mythology and lore. There' s a lot of nice mythos that hasn't been used much in tattooing. As far as subjects go, I have a special affection for skulls, pinups, birds and any type of marine theme... Which is hardly original, but they're just classics I love.

3. Did You have a "mentor” type of person or someone you’d look up to when you were starting your tattoo career?
Unfortunately I was mostly self-taught... I did look up to Tin-Tin from Paris. In the early nineties I was touring with my punk rock band and saw his work in France and was totally amazed at his strong and defined illustrative style. I had the chance to meet him around that time and he really embodied the quintessential tattooer in my eyes. Meeting him was definitely empowering. And being welcomed so graciously in his shop meant a lot for me, being an unknown and unexperienced tattooer back then.

4. You build your own custom machines. Is it still “for friends only” or do you plan to put it out for a regular sale? Tell us a story, when and how
did this whole idea of making machines start?

Yeah I started building tattoo machines in 2003. It's done all by hand, slowly and carefully. I wanted to learn the craft of machine-building because I felt it was part of becoming a better tattooer. It helped me understand the physical action of tattooing and having a better technique to apply tattoos efficiently. I have to credit my friend John Moniz for building me my first real hand made custom machine. It changed my life as a tattooer. It made my everyday work much easier and opened new technical possibilities. I became really passionate about it from that point on. I build regularly, but in very small numbers. So I reserve those machines for sale only to people I meet in person, friends mostly.
I am hoping to put out some small production models that would make my machines more accessible to the tattoo trade, but I want to do it right. So it might take me a bit longer.

5. What is it like to live in Canada? You travel a lot, what features make this place different from all the rest You’ve been to?
Canada is an enormous country. I'm really from the only french-speaking province: Quebec. That already makes it culturally different from the rest of North America. I live on the east coast and we're closer to a city like New York than a west coast city like Vancouver or a prairie town like Calgary... My city, Montreal, has a european flair even though it's north american in style. I find the quality of life is very good here. It's culturally dynamic. There's a lot going on, especially in the summer. I suppose because our winters can be hard, people really have a very festive energy when spring comes.

6. Which tattoo convention is your favorite one? And why of course?
It's tough to pick a favorite convention. In Canada my favorite show is the Calgary convention, mostly because of the outstanding organization. I really like the Milan convention, after 15 years Miki and his crew know how to put on a good show. It's so busy and as an artist I find it practical that it's in a hotel. I love the Barcelona show because I always have a great time in that city and because it's where my traveling crew joined up for the first time 7 years ago! Dimitri HK, Steph D, Jee Sayalero and I were all there and we've been the Full Cana Crew since then. Of course I can't discard the London convention, it's the most impressive in scope and I love the Tobacco Dock location.

7. Getting tattooed. Is there any particular artist you’d die to get tattooed by? Or maybe a particular piece you’d like to have?
I'm pretty tattooed already but I kept a good spot for my friend and co-worker Seve Estevez. I wanna get tattooed by Dimitri also, he owes me a piece! Jee's gonna tattoo me again. And I'd like to get tattooed again by Steve Moore and Dustin Bones. I'd love a piece from Jessee Young, Nat Jean, Scott Bramble, James Tex, Adam Turk and Jim Miner... Damn! I won't have enough skin!!!

8. What does a term “friendship” mean to You? Discuss , please.
Friendship, the real thing, means so much to me... It's patient and open-minded. It has to be just, honorable and honest. It's wholehearted... I mean, there's a commitment in it. I have a bit of a gang mentality maybe... My brand of friendship is pretty absolute I guess... Friends are or aren't. There's no "gray zone" in my eyes. Nothing against the rest of the world, but I see the difference. And I like to keep that aspect of my life uncompromised.

9. Every artist has his or her own plans about in what direction his or her art shall go. Sometimes it happens subconsciously. In what direction do your inspirations lead?
I'm not sure. I'm a tattooer before I am an artist. So the principles of tattooing dictate the direction of my art somehow... And I like to get inspired by the subjects my customers bring me. I like to research subjects. It gives me a chance to learn new things and grasp the inspiration of my customers. I don't draw or paint a lot outside of my tattoo preparation.

10. Hobbys , free time and music…
Well I play music. I have been for the past twenty years. Mainly punk rock/ hardcore. But I stopped doing it professionally. I also like to go free-diving when I can get to the sea. Snowboarding is also a must for the winter in Quebec! I skateboard and bike in the city... I like to remain active physically and workout every morning.

11. What would you if you weren’t a tattooer?
Terrorism or high seas piracy.

12. Plans. What’s to come in near future in Safwan’s life?
I'd like to travel more. I still haven't been to Japan despite my great interest for it and I think it has to happen in 2010. I try to visit one new place every year. I'd like to make it out to Australia, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia also eventually. But it's all a question of balance and timing, because I need to honor my responsibilities at Imago. I have a few more tattoo related projects, but I'd rather talk about it when it'll be more concrete.

13. Anything You’d like to add, greetings.

This last decade of tattooing highlights the importance for tattooers and tattooees to take responsibility for what is happening in this industry. As tattooing becomes more and more mainstream it's important that it doesn't become diluted and banalized. I think we have to beware of the opportunistic business ventures brought forth by the popularity of tattoos. Let's not buy into crappy reality TV shows, half-assed tattoo magazines, greedy convention organizations, bad suppliers and lame corporate brands trying to cash-in on what they see as just another trend. Let's voice our positions and stand by them! As people who do this with legitimacy we worked too hard to let it being exploited and run to the ground by unethical business minded fools. This is ours. Let's not let it go down the shitter people!

I'd like extend my respect and appreciation to all the friends I made in the tattoo trade. To my home crew and abroad. And of course to all the people that I have the honor and privilege to tattoo. It means the world to me.