There was a time when sporting a tattoo would mark you gangster, sailor or punk. Today they’re adorned by young and old, rich and poor, straight and rebellious alike. In this series, we meet London’s finest tattoo artists to discuss the growing appeal of ink. Michelich Matesich, a lover of the craft, works at Cloak and Dagger, where he marks people with black and grey ink. Photography by Rory James.
DISORDER: How did you get started?
MICHELICH: I have liked tribal tattoos since when I was 16. A friend of mine hand-poked his hand, which I thought was a bit too much for a first. But it made me understand what a tattoo it actually is, ink under the skin. The first tattooist who really grabbed my attention was Rob Koss; looking at his work, I realised that tattooing could have so many different looks and [have a different] impact.
How did you become a tattoo artist?
I stepped in a shop for the first time in 2006 [and] started tattooing in 2012. In between I worked as a welder in a factory in my hometown Brescia, and in restaurants when I moved to England in 2008. I had been hanging out in tattoo shops hoping to find my way into the industry with an apprenticeship, but I didn't have much luck so I concentrated on drawing a lot.
What was your first tattoo, and how do you feel about it now?
My first is at the top of my back, the comedy and tragedy mask. I got it done by a tattooist called Maso who, I believe, still works in Brescia. I actually really like it still.
Any advice for people getting their first tattoo – perhaps a style or place or motivation?
Get it done big enough to be able to line it with a 9-liner [needle]. And get it on the back of your calf so that you can't stare at it for too long when it’s finished.
How frequently do you get new ones? What’s next?
I would like to get my back tattooed by Tutti Serra. I got three last year, but used to get them more frequently.
Tell us about your personal style as an artist. And who inspires you?
I only use black and grey ink. I prefer to draw animals, insects, waves, clouds and flowers. But enjoy tattooing any subject. I'm lucky to work besides my colleagues at Cloak and Dagger; they are my main everyday influence. My biggest inspirations, even before I was tattooing, were and are [tattoo artists] Christopher Brand, Grime and Drew Flores.
Is there such a thing as bad a tattoo – what does that look like and what do you say to someone stamped with one?
I’m not sure I can define a bad tattoo, [though] I’m sure they exist. I'd never say anything to someone who’s got a tattoo done badly, unless they’re the first to say that they’re not happy with it. But I wouldn't say much about someone else's work to the person who's got it done.
What style of tattoo artwork excites you? Is there any that you dislike?
I get excited by the [initial] drawing phase. My favourite style to look at is Japanese tattooing. I don't dislike any style – the simpler the design the more I check the technical side, how it’s been executed.
What defines the tattooing community? And how do you act or adapt within it?
I think the community is very big – a bit too big to be defined with one adjective. [But] I'd like to think it’s a creative community.
Are there assumptions from the “straight” world about people that have tattoos? Is there a tension?
No there isn't much [of a] stigma nowadays. I don't think people have prejudices against tattooed people. It’s more rare to find a person who hasn't got tattoos than one who has. Some workplaces still don't want to hire people with visible tattoos. I know that to work for the police you can't have tattoos from your elbow down [for example]; which is maybe a sign that society thinks a person with fewer tattoos has a more formal and professional look.
Are there still taboos in tattooing?
I'd refuse to tattoo anything that could be offensive towards someone else or another culture.
Are you more into the craft or the art?
I’m obsessed with the technical side of tattooing: how machines works, how well a tattoo heals up, and how it changes over the years. I have noticed that black and grey tattoos are more likely to have a different look when freshly done and when healed.
What’s your proudest moment?
When I tattooed my mum. I did a little jug on her leg. Also the first time I got a job in a proper tattoo shop, Sims Tattoos. It was quite frightening having to tattoo next to people who had done it for years, winging it even when I was doing the smallest initial on the wrist.
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