People seem to be becoming exceedingly ‘inked up’ these days. Tattoos are rapidly seeping into our culture and spreading across the skin of our population like a disease. Though the symbology may still be there in some cases, it is getting lost in the sea of meaninglessness that so many tattoos epitomize. Tattoos have become normalized, orthodox and, in a way, predictable.
Fuzi UVTPK is a Parisian artist who is breaking away from the conventions and constrains of tattoos, bringing a breath of fresh air to what has seemingly become more like a sport than anything else. As an ex-graffiti artist who literally fought for his own freedom on the streets of Paris, Fuzi drew international attention after developing his own Ignorant Style of grafitti in the 90s. He now transfers this style onto the skin of strangers, in attempt to bring art back into the act of tattooing.
VICE: So what brings you to Copenhagen?
Fuzi UVTPK: I visited Copenhagen in the past to graffiti the trains, and now I’ve come back to tattoo the people! At the moment I’m traveling around the world to participate in various collaborations I have with brands and galleries etc. I’ve collaborated with Wood Wood to make a limited edition wallet, so I’m to celebrate this and to tattoo some people at the same time. I’ve known Brian, the owner of Wood Wood, for a long time, we did some t-shirts together a while back for their 10th anniversary and then recently decided to do something else. I like it here because people in Copenhagen and this part of Europe seem to be quite receptive to what I do; people here are open to trying something new.
What made you transition from painting trains to skin?
It was an evolution within my own creations. I brought my own style - the ‘Ignorant Style’ - to graffiti in the 90s and became famous for this. After that I needed to stop and slow down, my life was super complicated back then. As you get older you have to change, but I still wanted to continue creating art so I experimented a lot. It wasn’t a sudden transition, tattooing was one of my medias, but I still continued to paint, exhibit and also do graffiti at the same time.
Why was your life so complicated in the 90s?
My life now is totally different to how it was back in the 90s. I stole spray cans, I robbed people and had to fight in order to be the best on the street. Now you can’t do anything without getting caught on CCTV. Back then violence and the streets was a way of life, and I built my art from this way of life. In order be the best in my gang it came down to the graffiti you made, so I had to find an original style. Being free was the most important thing to me back then, to have no rules and just make what I wanted to make. My life was centered around graffiti; I lived for it.
You seem to have a quite fascination with post-apocalyptic type imagery?
Yeah, I was influenced by a lot of post-apocalyptic movies, for example Mad Max. My tattoos are a mix between the violence from the street and something a bit ironic and funny. There are always two sides to them; one side that is something tragic or dramatic and the other that is humorous. I think it’s important to joke about these kinds of things - it is just life.
How does the idea of self-expression reflect in your work?
My art is always a reference to my past and my experiences. I want to express the life I have lived. It’s no different from painting on a canvas, it comes from the heart and that is why people are so attracted to it. It’s a kind of experiment and it’s something true, something real. Now so many people have tattoos but they are meaningless, but people are beginning to want something more authentic.
When people choose my tattoos they do so because they share some sort of feeling with me, they feel like they can relate to what I am expressing. This is what I love about the process, what someone else sees is not necessarily what it meant to me when I created it. It is all based on personal interpretation and perception.
How does your way of tattooing differ from conventional tattooing?
A lot of people talk about typical ‘tattoo artists’ but I am just an artist and I use the tattoo to express myself. For me the act of simply creating something is the most important part of tattooing. Not only the creation of a piece of art on someone’s skin, but the creation of the experience that comes with it. I travel around the world and tell people when I’m in each city so they can book an appointment with me. Then I find unusual locations to tattoo people in, like galleries, rooftops or tunnels, but never in a tattoo shop.
When you get a tattoo with me you have two options: choose one of my pre-drawn designs or let me make the tattoo for you on the spot. No matter which option you choose, it will be unique. If you choose one of the drawings I have already made, it will never be used again. I only tattoo in my style. I don’t draw mermaids… well, if I did it would be a Fuzi-style mermaid! A lot of tattoo artists are really shocked about the way I work, but I say ‘look I’m not a ‘tattoo artist’, I don’t care about your job or your shop, I’m just an artist’. I think tattoos will start to become more focused on art in the future. The people are the ones who decide if you’re talented or not, and considering I have a lot of clients and lot of people who want to be tattooed by me; I must not be so bad.
You also have a number of celebrities on your list of clientele like Scarlet Johansson, Diplo and Justice. How do they differ from the ‘every-day’ people you tattoo?
It’s the same as with anyone else; they come to me because they want something different. It’s not usually anything too crazy when I tattoo celebrities. It’s a bit difficult to tattoo Scarlet Johansson in a subway tunnel because she’s so mainstream. With someone like Diplo maybe it’s a bit easier… but anyway, in the end it is still skin, and it is still my style of art, so nothing changes really.
What’s the craziest place you’ve ever tattooed someone?
One of the coolest places I have tattooed is the Freedom tunnel in New York. It’s a famous tunnel where a lot of homeless people lived in the 80s and 90s. Now there are a lot of cops stopping people entering the tunnel but I tattooed there anyway, we had to bring our own electricity. It was super cool because it’s such a historic place with a lot of old graffiti.
What’s the relevance of the locations you choose to tattoo people in?
For me, it is like an artistic performance. I don’t want to be bored with what I do; I think that is the worst thing. If you’re bored, you won’t create something new. I must have something to boost me, and keep me moving, so finding a different place to do my work is a part of the game. I want to create an experience around the tattoo that the person will never forget.