Other than a well – known tattoo artist, Klodian Luca is a real artist. He spoke to HeartbeatInk about the art of tattoo, creativity and how all of it has affected his life.
First of all, as far as I know you have an artistic background…
I have graduated from the School of Fine Arts. I started at the school in Tirana and I completed the last two years in Florence. After Italy I settled in Greece (1994). I had been to the islands on holiday before and I really liked it.
How did you get into tattoos?
I started doing designs for tattoo studios at eighteen. It was a job for me. Some designs were returned to me because they said they couldn’t do them. I began wondering ‘why can’t they do them’ and I started trying them out. That’s how it sort of started. For many years I couldn’t believe I was doing tattoos. I didn’t want to believe it myself. Imagine if I had told my folks that I was doing tattoos… I couldn’t accept the fact that while I had finished the School of Fine Art I had dedicated my life to tattoo. It seemed foreign to me. I felt like that for many years. Lately it has cleared up and I can safely say that the tattoo is a part of me. Up until a few years ago I was hiding it from myself. It had clearly solved my financial problems. The love came a long time after. The love existed, just like children love to paint themselves or others, I just never expected it to become my profession. When you ask a child what he/she wants to be when they grow up, they will give you a list of various professions. I was one of those who would never have said ‘a tattoo artist’ (laughs).
You do say it now however?
Yes I do now. Even now though I stiffen up when I say it (laughs).
How come? Why the guilt?
When I started out, things were different. In those days tattoos were done by people looking at it as an easy way to make money. It was more of a hippy mentality. I mean people living just for today with no plans for tomorrow. I couldn’t believe that I was a part of them. Over time, before I got rid of that taboo, others got rid of it too. I gradually started getting used to it and feeling more a part of it every day.
Since you are describing past times, how do you see today’s tattoo scene compared with the past?
It has changed a lot. It is starting to be more artistic. I can now say that a tattoo artist is a real artist. In the past he was…. A tattooer (laughs), a guy doing tattoos. Now you meet people who really create. At the same time you also come across impressive tattoos which are just copy/paste printing. There are many people out there who have discovered this. They have learnt the technique and just do prints. I call them inkjets. And it’s not just about the stencil, they get the entire thing ready made. They don’t dare try and create a design of their own. They don’t have the ego to get to a point where they are able to say that the design is their own creation. Or they might say that a design they have found on the internet seen by the entire world is their own. You can’t say that of something just because you did a print.
Concerning your own art, how do you work creatively?
I try to connect with my client. To ‘bring out’ what he has in his mind so I can do it with my own style. People tell me my tattoos have a certain attitude. They recognize my designs. I can’t tell. I am glad to hear it, but I myself can’t see what exactly it is that make my tattoos different. Maybe it is because I design everything from scratch. I avoid copying. All my designs are done by hand using a felt-tip pen. I rarely use a stencil. Of course, if someone asks me to do his father, I am obliged to stay true to the photograph. In this case, the client feels assured and secure with just one look at the stencil of his father. I also show him the photo in the mirror which usually brings tears to their eyes before they leave.
Your style is mainly realistic but you do stray sometimes…
Realistic doesn’t mean that it definitely has to be something that exists. I create it. I mean, yes the subject has to be realistic, but you can find surrealism in realism. If you ask me for a watch I will give you a watch. Afterwards for example I could break it and make it more surreal. But it will still be real.
To what degree did studying at the School of Fine Arts help you with the art of the tattoo?
The school gives you an all-encompassing education. It teaches you how to act when working. You learn techniques. You don’t learn how to work a tattoo-gun. You learn the feeling of a paintbrush, a spray can, a pencil, of colours. Concerning tattoos, it gives you the provisions to help you find the right technique every time. Beyond the technique, it helps you analyze the subject. How to create it and how to set it. How to pair the design with the person. How to ‘clothe’ an arm in colour from beginning to end. All of this needs a trained eye. Fine Art School definitely trains you a lot.
Has your simultaneous foray into other art forms affected your relationship with tattoo?
I am a person who has given my life to anything to do with art. Either as a hobby or a profession. I live on creation. I feel as if I have two visible hands, legs, a head and then I have a third arm which is invisible and continuously creates things. When I was a child for example, my mother used to tell me that ‘you draw even when you’re eating bread and butter’.
So we are born with some natural talent?
Being born an artist is difficult. You would have to be a genius. We are all the same, there are just certain ages when we start either playing more with a football, moulding clay people or drumming our fingers on the table. That’s when we each take our own path. Personally, I think that I gave more attention to painting compared to someone else for example. I wasn’t born a painter or a tattoo artist or a sculptor or anything else. We all become something.
When did you do your first tattoo?
I’m ashamed to say it… when I was 14 years old. It is sort of a weird story. My father had a tattoo which he had done during his National Service. Even though he had no contact with tattoos, he had one. When telling a story to their children, most fathers do so with enthusiasm. So he had told me in detail how exactly he had got the tattoo. The whole process had seemed simple to me at the time. That night everyone went to bed and I woke up with a tattoo (laughs). I still have it.
When did you first start doing tattoos on others?
It didn’t take me long after that incident (laughs). I did some attempts. I started professionally after I finished the School of Fine Art. In Greece I started in 1998. I already had some basic knowledge from the studios that bought my designs. From that point on I need to give it more time. It wasn’t like it is now. Today it is a way of life. In the past, tattoo was more underground. You wouldn’t see it everyday.
Is there a tattoo artist whom you respect?
I respect the late Andreas Marnezos. I came to his studio in 1998 and stayed there for two and a half years. It was a very good experience. He has helped me with many things. Until then I was in my own world. I passed the time airbrushing and doing inscriptions, work that had solved my financial problems but were not stable. This meeting introduced me to the world of tattoo and stabilized me. In 2001 I opened House Tattoo in Ampelokipoi in Athens, which lasted for about 10 years.
How did your career then evolve?
After that, with chance acquaintances, with friends, you go after something better and you follow the path towards it. One step leads to another. First comes family, kids, a lot of things in-between and then you start to wonder… Is this going be my life or not? We all dream of ourselves achieving great things. As you grow older, you realize that either you get there, or you try to get there, or you accept that you cannot reach your goal. I am still in this transitional phase.
Regarding the tattoo, the truth is that you have a certain amount of responsibility. You “mark” people’s bodies. And if you ask me the question “what’s a tattoo to you” I will tell you that tattoo is the only form of art that dies.
I wasn’t planning on asking but since you mentioned it (laughs)… What do you think of the tattoo scene in Greece today?
Greece may have been a little late but the level has picked up a lot. There are a great number of very good artists. As I said, in the past tattoo was underground and the people doing them saw it as ‘easy money’. Nowadays it is a different category of people, the new generation, which in essence has a real relationship with art, whichever form it may be in. I really like that. All these people entering the world of tattoo have brought new life with them. Each person brought something of theirs and that created the competition. Competition in art is very good. It promotes and creates a culture and I believe that at this point Greece has gained its own tattoo culture. I think that in the coming years, Greece can create a global style.
Photos & interview by Ino Mei.