Rotterdam’s tattoo craftsman: an interview with Spaceman
This week, I’m in Rotterdam. I’ve flown over here to speak to a selection of tattoo artists who I believe are some of the best to be found in this corner of the world.
Whilst visiting Holland, first up on my list of ‘tattoo must-sees’ was an artist who refers to himself as “a tattooer from space” — I say artist, but in fact, the South African-born tattooer calls himself a “craftsman”, telling me that he loves nothing more than to make pieces inspired by his clients’ desires: “I like to be able to create a tattoo that is something they really want.”
Whilst the people of Rotterdam are sipping their cappuccinos below, upstairs at studio Bont en Blauw, six talented tattooers are doing their thing.
The shop is located in Rotterdam’s buzzing arts district — the compact but soulful Witte de Withkwartier which is jam-packed with interesting shops, bars and restaurants that you could spend hours lost inside.
Anyway, let’s get down to business. Ladies and gentleman, meet… Spaceman.
What has been your route into tattooing? Where did it all begin?
After two years of art school (studying Graphic Design), I realised that schools are shit and only force you to think and work according to a strict pre-determined set of rules and regulations. They try to force you to create by their system, to think that your personal, artistic freedom is only appreciated if compatible with the mainstream.
Needless to say I decided to drop school and try to follow my heart. For a couple if years I did odd jobs and gradually tattooing started consuming more and more of my mind. I decided to put some time and effort in drawing tattoo designs, so I could have something to show a local tattooer (Mehdi Le Mair, Bunker Tattoo, Breda, The Netherlands) and see what he thought of them. I got sent away countless times, but fortunately always with some solid advice on how to improve my drawings and what was needed to make a proper tattoo drawing so it translates well onto the skin.
In the meantime I was ‘scratching’ my friends at my mom’s house with some Chinese machine-kit I got for my birthday. After a couple of tattoos I realised that making a proper tattoo is fucking insanely difficult. So I stopped my scratching career and tried to focus all my energy on getting an apprenticeship.
After a year or so of weekly visits and non-stop improving of all that was said to improve or work on, I got offered a job at Bunker Tattoo as a Shop Manager. I was ecstatic, just knowing I was going to be in and around tattooing day-in day-out was such an amazing realisation. I will always be grateful for that opportunity.
I gave it all I had, often working 12–16 hours a day, trying to get the shop in optimal working condition. After just over a year, I got the chance to make my first tattoo on myself. From there on out I got to practice on my friends until my quality was somewhat acceptable. I started tattooing simple black designs, honed in on my skills and tried day-by-day to improve my tattooing.
I’ve been tattooing full-time now for just over six years.
Does tribal tattoo culture inspire your work?
I would consider my past work more geometrical / ornamental, but I have been shifting my attention and drawing more towards tribal-esque styles of tattooing. I enjoy the simpleness of tribal — just black and the total freedom of design.
For me, tribal is the most powerful style of tattooing. Just black on skin makes for the highest contrast and traditionally, most tribal styles always accentuate the human body as to make it more impressive or beautiful, depending on the culture and the intended purpose of said tattoo.
I have been studying a lot about tribes and aboriginal cultures, their symbolisms and what they hold most sacred in life more than their actual art. I always try to find out why they use certain symbols in their artwork and tattoos and why they got tattooed in the first place.
I am obsessed with tattooing. I am grateful every day for being fortunate enough to call this sacred art-form my profession. The fact that I am allowed to practice it, still baffles me sometimes — that I sit around all day drawing on people’s skin, leaving permanent marks. Why do we do this? What makes tattooing so magical and mysterious? That’s an on going question for me.
I guess that still leaves me with somewhat of a mystery surrounding tattooing. That mystery of people’s motivation to go through all that pain, just to get this mark that will accompany them for the rest of their physical life on this plane of existence.
I’ve also been studying shamanism and its role in the development of human consciousness over the ages. A lot of symbology seems to stem from shamanic rituals and divine knowledge derived from spiritual journeys and soul-traveling done by these shamans. This knowledge is translated into an understandable symbolic language so the layman can also understand what is trying to be conveyed to man from the spirit world.
This is a source of information I’ve been slowly able to tap into.Trying to understand it, finding an appropriate way to combine it with my work, and sharing it with the world, is what keeps my mind occupied these days. It’s an ongoing process that gets me quite excited and motivated for what is yet to come.
Lately I have been focussing more on my shamanic-influenced symbolic designs. Trying to find a way back to the old traditions, to feel the sacred magic that once accompanied tattooing.
Do you think some tattoos have lost that sense of sacred magic, in today’s modern world?
I guess in the most general sense, the Western world is like a giant, culturally-diverse tribe, and tattooing is a way for this tribe to explore self identification and to convey a certain aesthetic to the rest of the world.
I do feel, however, that tattoos have lost a great deal, if not all, of their sacred-ness. Tattooing has lost its mystical character and reverence from the general public since it has become so mainstream over the past two decades.
That is what I am trying to find again in my work — that sacred language of symbolism and power that tattoos once had.
What are some of your other influences as an artist?
I try to not keep busy with tattoo stuff on my days off. I read a lot — on consciousness and the grander scheme of existence and the cosmos. I’d say the biggest influences on my work these days are my photography, nature and shamanism.
What do you love most about what you do?
The freedom that comes with it. The ability to be creative, and in the process make people happy and feel good about themselves. I try to keep it simple and pure.
Over all else… love, peace and light.
Words: Rebecca Rimmer.
Trip thanks to Visit Holland.
The above article was written and first published in August 2017.