Our friend Fabrice Koch was a talented graphic artist long before turning to tattooing. He uses a spontanious brush strokes technique which give a solid framework for more colourful splashes of aquarelle in the background. His years of travelling and graphic sensibilities make him at home with other tribal and traditional artists as we all speak different dialects of the same visual language.
Here is a little eye candy for your senses
And for the Swedish impaired...
Fabrice Koch Interview
Fabrice Koch is a true Renaissance man… Swiss born, German raised and married to an Indonesian woman, Fabrice is well travelled and fluent in many languages. Those he doesn’t speak he can still make himself understood in by his friendly disposition and curious nature. Fabrice’s journey into the tattoo world first began at the ripe old age of 40 after working several decades as an “Old School” graphic designer. He was becoming tired of working with graphic design which was more and more being taken over by interns with a basic knowledge of Adobe software. For his birthday he was given professional tattoo equipment from tattooist friends. Fabrice’s “hands on” method of illustration and friendly disposition transferred well to the world of tattooing and his spontaneity and problem solving skills meant that he could work anywhere under any conditions. He combines representational designs with geometric patterns. Calligraphic lines which appear splashed on the skin but at the same time are easily readable, together with clean sharp graphic patterns and texts from his years as a designer. This formula provides the framework for a tattoo which will stand the test of time and still hold its graphic sensibilities long after the colours fade. If one had to label his style it could be said to be, East meets West or better still, Order from Chaos.
1: Graphic "vs" Fine Art. We work in a field of commission art by clients with demands for custom work... do you consider tattooing to be a technical skill or creative expressionism? When does Craft become Art?
That is a tricky question since it all has to fit together in a good balance.
To me a good tattoo starts with the placement and the merging with the anatomy.
Technical skills are very much needed in the execution of good tattoo, but should not be the main attention of a tattooist. Composition should be first, not the chase for a higher technical challenge.
A good composition can be very simple, but is often more difficult to achieve.
In my case I'm very lucky to have both types of clients.
The majority have a motif in mind, often referring to pieces they’ve already seen.
These clients will show examples of what they like when talking about their future tattoo.
Others will just give a very vague idea, a rough limitation in size and placement to let the artist express.
We also have rare cases of clients giving complete artistic freedom, which is awesome, but also a challenge. It’s not easy to just let loose on someone I don’t really know - in these cases I need to have longer conversations before starting inking… playing around with different ideas until we both feel comfortable with it.
(on a piece of paper or canvas it’s easy to get some scratchy, broken lines - or splashes, done just in a fraction of a second. Reproduce these expressions needs some technical skill to make them last in the skin. Often you can see these things done in a way which will fade in short time. )
2: Figurative "vs" Ornamental. The Western tattoo tradition of representational symbols seems at odds with the more abstract tribal patterns. What are the challenges in rendering a picture in a way that it also compliments the body’s form?
This was never a question to me. I was at tattoo conventions as a visitor years before getting myself into tattooing, watching traditional tattoo artist preparing was the most exciting and the best lessons I could ever have… by learning how to divide the body up into sections which are designed individually, and still end in a large organic piece.
I was never much interested into creating single pictures and afterwards looking for a spot where it will fit best - although I have my own "Flash“ as well.
But when using photos (for realistic works) or pre-drawn flashes it is still important to play around with different sizes, positions and angles, until getting to the point where it perfectly fits to the anatomy.
3: Calligraphy "vs" Water Colour. Your tattoos carry a brush and Ink quality to them... the use of a solid Eastern calligraphy framework combined with a more Western aquarelle watercolour fill. Is it difficult to get static needle grouping to emulate spontaneous brush strokes and colour bleeds? What is most important in a tattooing context?
Well, I started playing around with these so called "new styles“ many years ago.
I remember the first years, people kept asking me whether these ideas/designs will work as a tattoo.
Several times I got answers like, "Yes, I like your idea - but it is not a tattoo, it’s a nice drawing“!
It took me some time before I got enough reference to show that I was able to reproduce my drawings on skin. These last few years watercolor has become a hyped thing, this fact pushed me further, since I didn’t want to swim in the mainstream, so I got deeper into eastern calligraphy techniques.
The true challenge is to reproduce the spontaneity of an Indian ink brushstroke with precise tools, and at the same time making sure that it is solid enough to resist the ravages of time
Spreading randomly splatters and strokes looks easy, but it takes time to learn to do it naturally. One can often see very "constructed" splatters or splashes, but this brings out the worst in me.
I like to joke around when I get asked how I do it... I learned the anatomy of ink.
My personal watercolour technique is using solid colours... to give the lighter colours a chance to last instead of just watering them down. I have to think differently doing a watercolor on paper than when putting it into skin, because skin is living and getting older, sun will also influence the aging of a tattoo. I speak to my clients about their habits of enjoying the sun. (Those who love to have extended sunbaths will get stronger colors than people staying away from the sun.)
4: Individualism " vs" Tradition. Although you seem to live in the Avantgarde school, most of your inner circle seem involved in traditional and cultural tattooing. Where do these worlds meet and what can they learn from each other?
Individualism vs. Tradition, one cannot live without the other. If there is no avant-garde one will never notice tradition, and there is no avant-garde without a solid traditional foundation.
I’m glad that the tattoo scene opened up widely within the last years. This gives the opportunity to artists and tattoo lovers to have more variety of expressing themselves.
Breaking rules and creating out of step things means you have to know and understand the basics.
It’s a bit like if you want to play jazz - or better free jazz, you just can’t do it without the knowledge of scales and a certain portion of musical skills. "letting go“ means to have a rock solid fundament to rely upon. Modern tattooing should never forget the history.
The other side is that one can innovate traditional tattoos... not only copying and keeping up what has been done for centuries. This has to be done very sensitively by keeping the respect and understanding of the roots. From time to time it happens that I find clients who allow me to give tribal tattoos a more contemporary look. In Borneo for example, members of the local Iban tribe are quite open and enthusiastic about my new versions of ancient designs - I even inspired some local artists to play around with their cultural heritage.
Actually I’m looking forward to play around with other traditional stuff in future.
5: Freehand "vs" Stencil. Graphic programs can be an important tool for rendering designs which combine photographic and geometric elements as well as giving the client a good idea of how the finished tattoo will look... however you still favour working freehand. What are the challenges and rewards of undertaking such a journey without having a clear picture of the destination?
I don’t want to give myself a limitation between freehand and stencil work. It’s true that I actually freehand a lot in my work, especially when I work "on the road". Freehand guaranties a better flow with the anatomy and gives me more creative freedom. On the other hand it requires more trust from my clients. Some are traveling internationally to my private atelier without knowing anything about what I have in mind for them.
This puts me in a situation between feeling comfortable and a high pressure doing the right thing.
In most cases even I have no idea where the creative journey will lead us. But this is exactly the kind of suspense which I try to bring into the tattoo, as well as keeping the spontaneity in the parts where I'm using strict geometric patterns.
Working with graphic programs helps a lot, but should never been seen as a source of creativity.
I personally don’t like a lot of new stuff where one can clearly see that it’s just randomly googling 2 or 3 photographs, melting them together with photoshop - ready in the tattoo-instant soup.
Using computer software is only a comfortable tool, which I like to use to create some of my compositions mixing realistic parts melting together with raster-designs for example.
But even with that way of working I'm using a lot of hand drawn parts for my compositions.
Again comparing to music it is choosing between a perfectly arranged song to a jam session, which can be bound in defined chord progression, or totally open.
I remember a question an apprentice of a tattoo-shop I was guesting at asked me while watching me tattooing, "Fabrice, why are you actually putting stencil on when you don’t even follow it?“
I answered, "sometimes I just need it to be sure what I don’t want to do“.
I don’t want to limit myself, better keep my mind open to all kinds of possible techniques to push myself to new borders.
Fabrice will be attending Prison Ink in Horsens, Denmark the 25-27th of May and doing a guest spot in København the following week.
Lauffen am Neckar