Painted Screens and Playing Cards: Interview with Joe Tartarotti

Painted Screens and Playing Cards: Interview with Joe Tartarotti

In this interview with tattoo artist Joe Tartarotti he talks about carpentry, the beauty of Italy and freedom.

A man of many talents and skills, Joe Tartarotti paints screens, designs playing cards, decorates fans with gold leaf, and somehow finds time to tattoo bad ass back pieces at Man's Ruin Tattoo Club based in Milan, Italy. It would be cliche to call him a Renaissance man, but the portfolio of Tartarotti is absolutely awe inspiring. Looking at his work is like bathing with blondes in the 1920's while Cole Porter plays on a phonograph...and it's no wonder. He captures the absolute best of vintage tattoo culture. 

How did you get into tattooing? What do you love about it?

I had my first tattoo 15 years ago, when a friend was getting a Japanese sleeve and I walked into the studio with him. It was the first time I approached the tattoo world, since nobody I knew had tattoos. After a while, I spent almost one year in Brazil, where my interest for tattooing got serious. As soon as I came back to Milan I started drawing almost compulsively, and I was lucky enough to find an apprenticeship very close to my university, where I was studying architecture.

I am a curious guy, always eager to learn and improve myself, and tattooing allowed me to satisfy my hunger for novelty. I like researching, learning new styles and using different techniques, plus having no working schedules and no boss gives me the freedom I need.

What inspires you?

Actually I get inspiration from anything I see. I am particularly interested in early 1900's tattooers, but I also look at prints, illustrations, potteries, art books. I am constantly researching for images, references, sources of inspiration that can originate from any context or era. Generally speaking, I love classic subjects, but I like to add small details that diverge from this world and that can really make an image unique. I do not want to have a single focus, I simply do whatever I like.

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Traditional tattooing is one of the oldest styles out there, and continues to be a mainstay of the industry. What do you think people love about it? Why is the style you chose to do?

I wouldn’t know what to say about why other people like this style, I can only say why I do love it. I like how simple but at the same time extremely powerful its designs are, how clear and readable every piece is: traditional designs immediately catch my interest, at first with military flash, and sooner than I realized I was completely into it.

Beyond tattooing, what are you most passionate about? If you weren’t a tattooer what would you be doing?

I am a compulsive sketcher... luckily, in the last year I managed to detox from this addiction, but I’m always looking for something newer or bigger to do. Last year I painted on a full sized woman mannequin, dream catchers, fans, a folding screen, I just finished realizing my own design for a whole deck of playing cards.I really enjoy drawing something different from tattoos, I find it crucial to disconnect from work

I like ponds and all the creatures that live there, girls, smoking, wood, riding my motorcycle, keeping active and creating something that amuses me.

If I weren’t a tattooer I would probably do some manual job, like carpentry, or building wooden houses in the middle of the jungle.

What is the tattoo community like in Milan? How has the ancient history of arts and culture in Italy influenced tattooing?

Most of my closest friends are tattooers! We’re a very close community, made of people that, coming from all corners of Italy, decided to live in Milan. It’s really exciting to be able to exchange ideas with people that share the same interests...luckily, though, we do not always talk about tattoos only!

I think I’m very lucky to live in Italy, it gave me the opportunity to live immersed in art and beauty; it can be a double edged weapon, though: it’s really easy to become so used that all the amazing art and architecture that the risk to stop paying it any attention could be high. I do not know if and how it influenced tattooing in general, every tattooer has sources of inspiration and influences; as for myself, I get inspirations from Italian painters sculptors and illustrators , as well as from artists from many different European countries.

What is your favorite place that you’ve ever been? Where would you love to visit and why?

Definitely Rio de Janeiro! it’s a fantastic city, in an amazing country, plus it’s related with a great time to of my life: I was young, without any stress and concern, just going around and having fun!

Thinking about places I would like to visit, I wouldn’t say cities: I love wilderness, jungles, places where the nature expresses all its power. Places like New Guinea and Micronesia, where I could see strange animals, giant insects, lizards, big crabs..the only problem is that it’s a 18thousand hours flight to get there, and I absolutely hate flying!!!

Do you have any travel plans, collabs, or projects coming up in 2019 that you’d like to share?

Currently, I’m not traveling a lot...I got kind of lazy under that aspect, so I’m just going to be guesting with some friends in Italy. My latest efforts have been folding screens and playing cards, and I’m pretty satisfied with them. I’m not a planner, I do not like to make long-term plans...I’ll wait and see what 2019 has in store for me!

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