Tattooing is a global phenomenon, yet there aren’t many windows into each country’s tattoo subcultures. But French tattoo enthusiasts and filmmakers Erwan Roudaut and Alexandre Gamot have been blowing France’s tattoo culture wide open with their web series Color My Skin, which covers the scene's artists and artworks through various intersection points like conventions, concerts, and exhibitions.
Roudaut and Gamot’s documentary coverage of conventions—both in and outside France—gives the series an international flavor, allowing them to showcase the art but also dig into each artist’s aesthetic approaches and motivations. They are also in the midst of finishing an ambitious, feature-length Color My Skin documentary titled In Memoriam, a 90-minute peek into the world of iconic French tattoo artist Mikael de Poissy.
Gamot, the main filmmaker behind Color My Skin, got his first tattoo—an Egyptian ankh symbol on his forearm—at 18 years old while an exchange student in Ontario, Canada. It was a tribute to a friend who had wanted to be an Egyptologist but had passed away. As a young kid, Gamot was always fascinated with the Japanese style of tattooing, and he believes this is the origin of his interest in tattoo art and culture.
“Cinema has been my true great passion since childhood,” he tells The Creators Project. “And what I really want for Color My Skin is to develop a full feature documentary series like the one we're about to release but with more budget and ‘cinema quality.”
Roudaut's first tattoo also came at the age of 18. He says the discovery of tattoos was quite natural for him, since his cousin was heavily inked, his mother wanted one, and he was listening to metal music in which most band members had tattoos.
“After my first tattoo it was a revelation, and I spent an important part of my time watching videos and reading about tattoo culture,” he says. “I was hanging around with some artists, [so] I decided to do something for this culture.”
The initial inspiration for Color My Skin came by way of Roudaut's girlfriend, whose hobby involved interviewing metal bands who were playing Paris venues. Roudaut decided he wanted to do something similar for tattooing.
Gamot, it seems, recognized that Roudaut’s idea had far more potential than mere video interviews. He envisioned a series that could be good enough for television or the internet, exploring what the world of tattoos is like, both in France and beyond.
Roudaut says that France has come a long way since the cultural arrival of tattooing. Before the 1990s, he says that tattoos were popularly associated with “bad guys, criminals, hookers, or gangs of bikers.” But in the late 90s and early 2000s, things started to change as a new wave of artists were born.
“These were real artists coming from les Beaux Arts or art schools,” he says. “They gave a new impulse to the art, and made it more visual. And some artists like Tin-Tin helped to democratize this art. They made conventions, the very famous Mondial du Tatouage, and created legal structures to talk about tattoos.”
The most famous one is the SNAT, as Roudaut explains, an association that works to develop tattoo culture in France. The efforts have apparently paid off. Roudaut says that 1 in 10 people are now tattooed in France, and even more when looking at the 18-35 demographic.
“We have an artistic culture, and a really open minded way of approaching art,” he explains. “[So], I think it affects the way they work, and where they take their inspiration.”
Gamot points to veterans like Tin-Tin, known for his realism and freehand work, and de Poissy, whose work is inspired by France’s stained glass history, as two of the best in France. He’s also fond of Easy Sacha and Dark Manu’s traditional Japanese styles of tattooing, and Robert Darwin—an artist known for his vibrant use of colors—who has tattooed Gamot himself.
“[Robert] created one of Paris' most famous and best tattoo parlors which is now co-owned by Yannick, a great piercer, and El Patman, whose dotwork and mandalas I love,” Gamot says. “Of course, Dimitri HK is part of them as well, he's been tattooing for more than 25 years in the new school style. More than a great artist he's also a very kind person who would genuinely talk about tattoo to anyone interested.”
Gamot also points to Emy Blacksheep, an artist based in the French Alps who blends new and old styles in original ways, as well as the crew at Alchemink Studio, as particularly impressive artists. The studio’s Leon Lam, Lam's younger brother, Travi, and Leon’s wife, Namiko, are currently making a six-hands tattoo on Gamot’s right arm. “Their style is quite unique—lots of black, looks like a sketch or an Asian stamp for some,” he says.
While Gamot likes many older tattoo artists, Roudaut fixates on the newer, up-and-coming generation. Currently, Roudaut is a big fan of the young artist Strange Dust, who he says does beautiful black ink work (blackwork). Roudaut is also into guys like Nikki Bold and Olivier Poinsignon, two artists with unique styles based on geometry, blackwork, and the tattoo’s position on the body.
“There are plenty of them—I couldn't quote them all without making a huge list, but I want to give a shoutout to every artist that has tattooed me so far, because they all, in their way, are the best tattoo artists in France,” says Roudaut. “Boris (French Graffiti) did my right arm. Faustink (Le Phylactère) did two pieces on my left arm. Bichon (Golden Rabbit) did my ribs and my left foot. Eddie (23 Keller) did a piece on my left arm. Norako (Regards Noirs) started my left leg and will finish it. And El Patman (Art Corpus) is working on my back and left arm.”
For those wanting a more detailed look into the French world of tattooing, both Gamot and Roudaut recommend watching the episodes shot at Mondial du Tatouage 2016. A big international event, Roudaut says that these three episodes feature many French artists, showcasing their approach to tattoos.
Gamot and Roudaut’s In Memoriam, the 90-minute documentary on de Poissy, will also be essential viewing. Fully subtitled in English, the duo hope this documentary will be seen far and wide outside of the Francophone world.
“My hope is that people really consider tattooing like a piece of art, not something you buy like a pair of shoes,” says Gamot. “Yes, it is expensive but again, so is your smartphone; yet, you'll probably buy another one in two years or so, but your tattoo will be there forever.”
“This is more than just another wearable,” adds Roudaut. “This is something that can be meaningful, or just aesthetic, but which, in every way, needs to be thought about.”
Click here to watch more episodes of Color My Skin.