A tattoo should be personal and never repeated
Interview by Doralbu Piccmo Photos by Doralba Piccrno ¿c Robert Hernandez
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There are not many tattoo artists in the world who could be described as truly influential, who start a trend - a genre even - and whose style becomes established in its own right. I can think of a few. Bugs. Paul Booth. Joe Capobianco, Xed LeHead for example, whose work is not only instantly identifiable, but also widely copied and imitated, but it is a very select club indeed. Another example is Robert Hernandez, who was born in Poland into a famil) with a Spanish background, but who is now based in Madrid. Spain, at his studio Vittamin Tattoo. Like the artists I mentioned earlier, he is frequently the tattooist of choice for other artists, which is quite telling. His hyper-real blend of brush-like tattoo work, the vividness and intensity of his colours and the translucent quality of his black and grey work transcend the limitations of tattoo realism. You might think a tattooist of Robert's calibre and reputation would be impossible to pin clown for an appointment but this is not the case. Refreshingly, it is possible to get a session with him relatively ^^ easily, as he refuses to book himself up months in advance.
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Total Tattoo: You opened your studio, Yittamin Tattoo, a —^ few years ago after working for other people. How do you rind It. flying solo? Robert Hernandez: I had spent seven happy yean» at Mao & Cathy's, which was more like a family, but I knew when it was time to move on and do something new. The biggest change w as being my own boss. The success of your shop depends on how much you arc able to adapt to the demands of your clients. It's a very different atmosphere to many studios. Most of die time I work atone in the shop, so there is no interaction with other artists. I do miss that, naturally, but it also means that it's quiet and relaxing. The transition from a large studio to a smaller one was smooth and it worked out fine. At first I did not think beyond working on my own. but perhaps in the future I'll make space for someone else or open another studio.
TT: You net to interact with your fellow artists at tattoo conventions, of course.
Rll: Of course. Conventions arc a great opportunity to catch up with them and you get that feeling of anarchy and fun from working together. For me, conventions arc a big part of the tattoo world. It's the travelling, meeting new people, having new experiences. I especially enjoy travelling to new places. Going to conventions requires a lot of re-organizing for me. because I have to close the shop. Maybe in the future that will change. I am trying to find a solution!
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TT: Did you get into tattooing when you moved to Madrid?
Rll: I moved from Poland in 198s | went Mao's studio with a bunch of drawings and he offered mc a job drawing Hash. After two months I started tattooing. And that's it! Being in the shop was great. I got to Icam b\ watching guest artists like Bebcrt. I had never seen realistic tattoo work before. Now it's popular, but it wasn't back then. There was no internet, remember, so I had only seen other people's work in American tattoo magazines
TT: You have an ama/ing reputation and your work is often imitated. Docs that bother you or do you find it flattering?
Rll: I don't have a problem with people being 'inspired' by the work I do. A lot of people look at what you do and take it as a starting point. They might take certain elements from it and that's fine. It's preferable to them doing an exact copy of a tattoo you have done. ^ Every artist should try to find a style of their own.
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OTT: I sec a lot of tattoos nowadays in which your style has been mimicked very faithfully.
Ml: It's up to the people who get tattooed and the artists. If all they do is take it as inspiration, it's OK. Of course, a copy is always a copy. The tattooist should be more ethical about it and the client should demand a unique piece. A tattoo should be personal and never repeated.
TT: Is there any subject matter you would refuse to tattoo?
M-l: I have done everything. When you start out you have to be humble and do whatever you're asked to do. When I was first at Mao's I did tribal and all sorts. Now I prefer to stick to my own style of realism. Having said that. I do enjoy using different techniques within my style. For instance I like doing line work which is very sketch-like, as if I was only using a pencil.
IT: The way in which you tattoo reminds me of brushstrokes and your work has very strong painterly qualities and hut is not like a painting, if that makes sense.
Ml: To be honest I miss painting a lot. Over the last five or six years I have concentrated more on the tattoo side but recently I started work on my first acrylic painting in six years, maybe even longer It always depends on how busy I am. how much time I've got. Perhaps the solution is to take a vacation and have two or three weeks just for painting I need to find a better balance between tattooing and other visual forms, painting or whatever.
TT: Do you think that having a very distinctive style can be a little limiting? Does it still leave y ou room for experimentation?
Ml: It largely depends on your clientele. Obviously if you get a customer who comes with a picture of a geisha you did three years ago and wants something like that, it does not leav e a lot of room for progression. In that way it can be limiting. This takes us back ^^
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TT: It strikes mc that much of your work is on the smaller side and doesn't cover large areas of skin. Do you get asked for large pieces?
RH: I mostly get asked for realist portraits and the si/e people want them is usually 'medium\ not too small, not too big. But I have done about eight or ten complete backpicccs in 15 years.
TT: If a client wants several smaller pieces is it hard for you to fit them together?
RH: To be honest. I am open to all ideas and suggestions. I enjoy small pieces and larger ones equally. Again, it depends on the customers. Of course, it would be great to work on a bodysuit but you have to be realistic. A lot of clients cannot do follow-up sessions regularly. I have clients who visit mc once a year, as well as those who can come every two weeks.
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