MONOMALISM: an interview with tattoo artist Mono



BEING BASED IN BERLIN, DO YOU SEE YOURSELF REMAINING THERE IN THE LONG RUN?


For the foreseeable future, yes. I love my community here, it’s very liberal and life is relatively easy here. You should come to visit!


HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK?


Contrarian by default, I’m naturally drawn towards all things extraordinary. I try to challenge and erode our preconceptions about behavior of subjects in this world. In my tattooing, this tendency is being reflected in continuous attempts to push frontiers, exploring new areas and defying expectations we have with regards to the purpose of tattooing in our contemporary world. My style is a reflection of my inherent ambiguity. Perpetual oscillation between polarities produces tension that becomes my creative force. I’m fascinated by the dualistic nature of interpretation of presence, to which we are conditioned by our culture. Seeing the world in dualistic terms of good or bad, black or white, provides insufficient understanding of an increasingly complex reality, where dualism as an ideal construct fails to deliver meaningful explanation and thus opens the door for a multitude of interpretations, each one falling into a penumbra in between the two ideals. This shadowland is like a Wunderkabinett whose interiors I wander in my introspective moments, searching for pieces of the complicated puzzle. Besides sublime abstract concepts originating in philosophy or psychology, I also draw inspiration from everyday banality. Daily iteration of the same reality, over and over again. I find repetition assuring, peaceful contrast to human hunger for new and unfamiliar. Ergo, my heavily dotted patterns are a sort of meditation on the theme, subtle variations of everydayness.


"My style is a reflection of my inherent ambiguity."

BIGGEST CHALLENGE YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED AS AN ARTIST?


My own insecurities and anxiety. When approaching a subject of interest from an artistic perspective, I’d sometimes experience pushback from internalized negative beliefs. I take comfort in talking to other artists, whose stories make me realize that I’m facing the same challenge as everybody else, albeit on a different level.


HOW DID YOU START TATTOOING?


I was drawn to tattoos and tattooing in general since my early teenage hood, for its subversive message and punk aesthetics. I performed my first tattoo on a guy I was getting my tattoos from when I was 16 or 17. He saw an apprentice material in me and introduced me to the basics. Back then I was more interested in graffiti, raw dirty aesthetics of city streets and the adrenaline hit that our nightly assaults on public property provided. It was only years later, after I acquired some education and expertise in arts, when people around me started to experiment with tattooing, that I came to a realization that tattooing has a potential beyond its decorative, identity affirmative purpose. It was initially for works of Lukas Musa, who later became my friend, that I started to gravitate towards tattooing as a medium worthy exploration. While acquainting myself with the technique and testing my newly attained skills on me and my friends I created my first flash book, consisting of ultra minimalist designs, which were conceived as a stylistic contrast to prevalent tattoo fashion of highly refined designs. To my surprise, many people showed interest in my simple designs! Encouraged by early success, I became more serious about my practice. I started to develop a philosophy that would guide my practice and mediate on ways of conveying abstract concepts through my visual language. Departed on my journey only recently, I’m excited about the unknown and unexplored, artistic problems to be solved and new frontiers to be explored!



WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT TATTOOING PEOPLE?


It’s the innumerable lessons I was fortunate to learn by talking to people of diverse backgrounds. Amongst my clients are some of the most brilliant people I’ve met, and I’m extremely grateful for the friendships and valuable lessons they provided me. What would you say to someone who wants to start tattooing?

I’d say: Do it! Experiment, find your own voice, and don’t listen to anybody who is trying to suggest any obstacles in your journey.

WHAT IS YOUR DESIGN CREATION PROCESS LIKE?


I have different tattoo projects, some running simultaneously, for which approaches vary depending on the concept. Nonetheless, a personal approach is universal to my work. I like to learn something about my clients prior to the actual tattoo session, their personality and history as well as motivations and ideas behind the tattoo project. We would discuss the concept in detail often revealing new possible applications and ways of representation. Final product is a result of collaboration, and input on the client’s side is often the crucial part of the outcome! After an initial acquaintance with the subject, in latter part of the designing process I’d observe the person’s body - its aesthetics, curves, shapes, posture... it’s important for me to feel and learn the personality and sensitivity of the person, her story and spirit if you will... All bodies are unique and so are my designs - I draw directly on the person’s body respecting its qualities and rather than forcing existing premeditated design, I try to use and highlight already existing aesthetics, be it structure of musculature, bone geometry or small things, like an interesting scar or birthmark.


"Internet generation skipped modernism and arrived to a post-tattoo world in which anything goes. I like it!"

WHAT DIFFERENCE DO YOU SEE BETWEEN THE CURRENT AND OLDER GENERATION OF TATTOOERS?


As tattoos are gradually becoming socially acceptable, we are experiencing a shift away from traditional forms. Face to face with a new reality, artists are now appropriating tattooing as a legitimate medium worthy exploration, myself included. You see young artists introducing modern imagery, using innovative approach to technique and finding solutions to new artistic challenges. Internet generation skipped modernism and arrived to a post-tattoo world in which anything goes. I like it!

WHAT IMPROVEMENT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE IN THE TATTOO INDUSTRY IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS?


Opening rather than closing doors to young and progressive artists from diverse backgrounds and departure from established conservative norms.



WHAT DO YOU ENJOY DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT TATTOOING?


Being a very curious person, I just really like learning new stuff! So when not tattooing or painting, which is my main focus, I’m educating myself in some way. List of my boring interests outside of visual arts is long and counts nuggets such as research and perception of obscure music, social science studies - nowadays primarily history and philosophy, art theory and history, and (while the gyms were still open) powerlifting, of all things, haha!

WHICH VISUAL ARTISTS INSPIRE YOU?


That’s a really hard question, for the list is growing with time, meanwhile I continue to discover new amazing artists almost daily. To name just a few from “the staples”: Lina Bo Bardi, Jiri Kornatovsky, Richard Serra, Ren Hang, Yayoi Kusama, Ibrahim El-Salahi...



WHAT OBSCURE GENRE AND ARTISTS ARE YOU LISTENING TO LATELY?


Haha!! OK here we go! Following is what I’ve been spinning the last week or two...

Songwriters: JOSEF VAN WISSEM, MARIEE SIOUX, LINGUA IGNOTA, MARISSA NADLER, GROUPER...


Minimal: ANDRA SEGEL, SARAH DAVACHI, LAURENCE CRANE, LUBOMYR

MELNYK, TIM HECKER...


Black: IMPERIAL CVLT, DÖDSRIT, TURIA, LITURGY, RAGANA...


Raw punk / d-beat: SIAL, RAT CAGE, DISSEKERAD, LARMA, 偏執症者 (Paranoid), SOAKIE...


Electro / noise: PHARMAKON, PUCE MARY, VESSEL OF INEQUITY, GNAW THEIR TONGUES, UBOA...


And so much more I don’t recall at the moment. Next time we can dive into Avantgarde, rap and drone...


HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA?


I’m watching the tale of social media with rather mixed feelings. Even if you consider the most obvious benefits and buy into the social media selling points, all that talk about the potential for starting artists and businesses, the opportunity of being exposed, the instant access to infinite content and messaging system for the wide public, all these supposed benefits are totally outweighed by the endless list of violations that, if you really call them for what they are, are predatory and disgusting, to say the least. If you take into consideration that all your activity is being tracked, recorded and sold to third parties, which includes massive data collection i.e., geolocation data, health data, biometric data, internet history, private messages, even microphone recordings, you can hardly see it as a win for the end user, let alone the fact that organic growth within these platforms is impossible. Meanwhile oppressive systems all around the world are employing the very same platforms to spy on people and to clamp down on dissent. This topic is obviously very complex and our society yet needs to have a discussion about the role of social media and its regulation to protect the users. Unfortunately, the latest development around platforms like Facebook suggests exhibition of messianic egotistical behavior rather than user-oriented solution which would prioritize people’s privacy over gigantic tech profits.

A LOT OF JOBS WILL BE AUTOMATED IN THE FUTURE. HOW DO YOU THINK WILL THAT AFFECT THE TATTOO INDUSTRY?


I think the progressing automation and implementation of AI will mostly continue to simplify communication between clients and tattooists. AI is already able to handle communication with clients, schedule appointments, collect data, render designs into user uploaded pictures... the possibilities are virtually endless. Employment of AI for the purposes of tattoo artists is still quite costly, however, in a couple of years from now it won’t be me answering interviews anymore, ha! In this light, automation will continue making everybody’s life easier by removing existing friction and eliminating mundane tasks, thus freeing time for truly important work.

I don’t see automation replacing tattoo artists with skillful robots capable of the delicate task any time soon. Which is sad, it could be a big win for a great number of unimaginative tattooers who could entrust their craft into the hands of equally uninventive robots, and just sit back and watch the $$$ rolling in!


"Let this be a wake up call and let’s stop abusing our beautiful planet!"


HOW HAS YOUR CORONAVIRUS JOURNEY BEEN?


It’s been surreal! I had to cancel my CA/US tour which really saddens me but I’m healthy and safe so I don’t complain. I hope I’ll be able to come back before the end of the year, though. Meanwhile, to end on a positive note, life here in the EU is slowly returning back to normal.

I’ve been watching the whole situation with awe, it’s certainly fascinating how a virus can disrupt global economy and our daily lives. If you think this is disruptive, think of the consequences of arriving climate change. Let this be a wake up call and let’s stop abusing our beautiful planet!



Interview and Art Direction by Saska Akopian & David Peyote


Photos by David Kodak

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