My first tattoo was covered up a long time ago. When I was still a kid, I made myself this classical prison-style tattooing machine and tattooed a small picture on my ankle. Well, I made a few tattoos for my friends, too, but realized quite soon that maybe it would just be better to let other people do the job.
As I was in my late teens in the ‘90s, my next tattoos were tribal tattoos on my back and my right arm. I’ve been trying to have the back piece removed many times. As I was young and foolish, I wanted the tattoo right in the middle of my back. I’ve tried many removal methods on it – once an acid removal, once a chemical scrubbing, and finally a laser removal.
The laser removal was made when the tattooists still had the opportunity to use laser. Nowadays you must have a license, special environment approved for medical purposes only, nurses monitoring the procedure and all this stuff, which means tattooists can’t do it anymore. The only problem is that the tattooists actually were the ones who knew how tattoos react on different situations. As a result, we nowadays get to see these cases where a customer has tried to remove his tattoo at some private hospital, and you can see from the skin that they have tried to laser the tattoo for like 20 times and still accomplished nothing. They’ve just managed to make scars instead of actually removing the tattoo.
All of my tattoos are made by a tattooist friend, a colleague, or during a trip. The images themselves hold no deeper meaning, only the fact that they’re made by a special person or at a special place. Here I have work by my friend Kohki Sato a.k.a Horikage from the time I was working in Tokyo around the year 2001. I also have artwork by Krisse, Andy, and Juho, all made during my time in Punavuori. Legacy Tattoo was an important place for me back then. The neck piece on the right side is made by Brazilian tattoo artist Tete. I have different tattoo styles on my skin, as I enjoy visually various kinds of work. Of course all the artists have their own styles, which affects the result, too.
You can hear quite often someone saying that tattoos are now in fashion, but in reality, it’s all about what we see and how we perceive the world ourselves. We always make sense of the world through the information we receive and the interpretations based on our own beliefs. These days, as there are lots of tattooed people on TV, people draw conclusions that tattoos must now be in fashion. In reality, though, tattoos aren’t any more fashionable than before, now they just happen to appear on your personal feed, whether it is Facebook, magazines or TV. You should still try to remember that it’s just your personal feed, not a cross-section of a real situation in the world. Your personal point of view doesn’t yet mean it’s global.
If you think purely financially, I guess the best era for the tattoo industry was the time between the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s. During that time the whole industry was completely different, though, and so were the customer’s habits of getting tattoos. Nowadays customers are more interested in finding a suitable studio for their own, individual style. Tattoos are also considered more profoundly, and the reference pictures are sought with greater interest. Whereas earlier a tattoo studio could succeed with a map full of images copied from an old tattoo magazine, nowadays tattooists must have a completely different mindset. The old saying “Kanjis will pay your rent” is no longer accurate. It’s not important to be located in a central place anymore, the more important factor is whether you are visible on social media or not. Walk-in-days have nowadays become a curiosity, whereas earlier they were considered a standard. Customers these days are aware that you have to book the tattoo appointment long beforehand and walk-ins give a nice opportunity to get yourself tattooed on the same day.
I know there are many old tattooists who aren’t pleased with the current direction, but I see development as a good thing. As the customers are more aware, it challenges the tattoo shops to expand their services, too. You can no longer succeed by selling a certain model or ready flashes from the same map everyone else has. Instead of being a grumpy flash tattooist, you have to be an artist whose artwork is on display on social media. That, in turn, has refined the whole industry, as it has raised the common standards and made the artists more co-operative.
The traditional problem in the tattoo industry has been the fact that there aren’t any common rules that would define the business. The better-defined industry has been an international goal for a long time, but the main problem is how to carry it out in practice. A formal education, for example, seems like quite an impossible idea, and all the experiments so far have failed. They have suffered from the assumption that anyone could become a tattoo artist, and the educators haven’t always been professional tattoo artists themselves. The real professionals, on the other hand, often want to protect the craft by not teaching everyone who’s willing to become a professional.
As there’s no certain education, there’s been cases where people with lesser knowledge have found their own studios as well. Luckily, that kind of business has nowadays become more rare than before. The tattooing field is developing all the time, and at the same time, the industry is becoming more demanding. I hope that in the future we would be in a situation where the whole industry would be better defined. That would prevent the cases where anyone could call himself a professional, because the people who try the tattoo business just for a few months with a startup grant are really the ones who end up damaging the whole tattoo community.
Even though there are more requirements for quality than before, there are still times when people who consider getting tattooed may fail in their judgment. It’s often related to a situation where you have a friend who makes tattoos at home for a low price. Sometimes it just feels so contradictory that people see such wonderful tattoos on the internet, like them – and still end up getting tattooed by a friend and try to explain themselves that the friend is still practicing, and the tattoo was cheap, anyway. I guess it has something to do with the fact that in the end, the tattoo is an expensive work of art, so it’s often easier to take a shortcut and get yourself a low-budget solution. Still, it’s kind of the same thing if Billy from the boonies wanted himself a Lamborghini, and since he didn’t have enough money, he’d get himself a Toyota DX and tune it up a little with rear wings and a cut-out exhaust. Even if Billy would think that by doing so, he would have a car that would sound a bit like a Lamborghini and look a bit like a Lamborghini, that still wouldn’t make him an owner of an actual Lamborghini. Fortunately, this kind of thinking has decreased a lot over the years. Nowadays customers understand well that the home-made tattoo from a friend may not be the most hygienic and best choice in any other way.
Then, if we get back to my own tattoos, the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s portrait is, of course, meaningful in its own way. I’m also going to have Cthulhu here in the background. And now that we’re talking about portraits, of course I have a tattoo of another meaningful character, Nikola Tesla. Tesla is a perfect example of the fact that in life, talent is always secondary – you will die poor anyway.
One of my most important tattoos is this artwork with an occultist pattern included in it. The tattooist Kirill Svart, also called Musta Kirka, is specialized in this kind of style. He’s a damn good tattoo artist.
As you can see, my left leg is the serious one, while the right leg is the humor side. Our Sampo tattooed here my voice of conscience, which has a ball gag in its mouth – I guess it explains everything needed. The fish-rooster (in Finnish: kalakukko, which also means a Finnish fish pasty) and the cuntface are also his work. “I don’t care”-bear is made by Niko of Pinky Inky. Then there are all kinds of comic reliefs: Hugh Manatee, the rotting Christ, just a tip of the cock…
I also have a memorial tattoo for my grandmother on my leg. Granny liked my tattoos, so after she died, I wanted to have a little artwork for her memory.
And then, I’m sure this will be understood in a completely wrong way, but nevertheless, here’s a swastika, an ancient symbol of a good fortune. The good-guy-swastika, in other words. I have also taught my apprentice on here how to make scarification. It’s easy to practice scarification on black ink, as you can easily see the right depth.
I find the history of the scarification extremely interesting. Traditionally, they have often been linked to a certain phase of life, for example, and the aesthetical aspect has formed only after that. While I was working in Tokyo, I once encountered this scarred, Ethiopian man, who told me he had come to Tokyo to work and gather money. After that, he would return home and be the wealthiest man in his entire village. It was something that really made an impression – to see this guy in a suit standing in Roppongi, Tokyo, with neon lights and colors flashing in the background, face covered with traditional scar tattoos. It made a magnificent contrast.
Many of my tattoos are still in progress, and there’s many hours of work that needs to be done. I’d like to have a proper, bigger piece on my back, and luckily Olivia (link) has promised to make me one. The other chest piece should be enhanced, and I’ve asked Kirill to tattoo my stomach, too. So, we still have a lot of work to do, but I guess that in the end, these will never be completely finished.