Nestled in an unassuming alleyway off a residential block in Finsbury Park, you’ll find the esteemed Parliament Tattoo. A private door yields open to a beautiful, open floor, warehouse-like space where the decor is neat, and the talent is heavy. Parliament is a family-run business that offers custom tattooing by appointment only. There are quite a few artists that call this studio their home, but today we’ve come to see Joao Bosco.
Known for his unique style, Joao’s work is unmistakable, yet hard to describe. With a distinctive use of heavy black juxtaposed against light grey and negative space, his tattoos give a fluid, free-flowing spin on traditional motifs sans all the clunkiness. Joao's artwork can’t be filed into one single category, and to try and do so would be unfair. Instead, we’ll let him explain...
You are a Brazilian-born artist living in London, How did that come about?
When I moved to London 10 years ago, I always wanted to learn how to tattoo and I realized if I stayed in Brazil it would take me twice as long. I was driven by the hunger for knowledge on how to master the craft. Also, I wanted to get to learn English, and I thought living in London would be the perfect place.
Was there a certain artist that you wanted to learn from when you came here?
Not particularly in England, but in Switzerland - yeah. I started watching Filip Leu and the Leu family who has always been a big influence on me. London is a good city with easy access to them. I met Filip in London just a year after I moved here and was hooked up to get work from him, so I started to travel to Switzerland to tattoo my back which was one of my dreams.
He did your arms too it looks like...
Yes, both of my arms too… and during these sessions I would show him my drawings, and he would sit with me with patience (he’s a very humble guy) and point out a few things I should fix, how I can do it better… teaching me properly. So it was proper workshop, with the benefit of getting tattooed. Two birds with one stone.
Did you serve a formal apprenticeship with Filip or elsewhere?
No, never. I wish I had. I realized the way to learn would be getting tattooed by a tattoo master I admired. Getting to watch what they do not only while getting tattooed, but on other customers and clients… that was the way I’d learned. I wish I had had an apprenticeship, it would have saved me a couple years, that’s for sure.
How did you find the style that you have, and how would you describe it?
Definitely Asian-inspired. I wouldn’t say I do Japanese “Traditional” but I always think about the way they apply it. The approach. They see a tattoo as a suit, not a random piece. Even when I do a hand-size tattoo I always think of how that will be continued as the Japanese masters think. I would also describe my tattoos as “Fantasy.” I tend to call everything I can’t label fantasy, because it came from the fantasy of someone’s head.
Your style to me, is a bit more free-form in the way that you apply it. You don’t see any turtle backs, or hard, solid backgrounds…
Exactly. That’s exactly why I always tend to freehand on subjects. I found it difficult to draw and elaborate on a flat surface like paper or a sketchbook, and deliver it to a human body. In my early days I tried to stencil it on, and I realized I couldn’t figure it out. I found that free-hand was more comfortable.
Do you remember the first time that you were even interested in tattoos? Was there a point when you saw somebody when you were younger with one?
Everything started when I was way younger. I had crazy friends that would ask me to tattoo them. Not because I knew how to tattoo, but I was always drawing. I never had the confidence, but basically I was pushed into it by them. Then I started becoming aware of tattoo artists locally. They could barely draw a stick figure, and I thought… there’s something wrong here. That was the drive.
Which artists (besides Filip) tattoo or otherwise, most inspire your artwork?
When it comes to artists outside of the tattoo field, I would definitely say Frank Frazetta. John Buscema, Ernie Chan, Stan Lee - all those guys from comic books and so on. From time to time I revisit old comics from when I was a kid it’s still strong and it’s still shocking. That kind of art, and the power of art, is eternal.
On that note, how are you looking to progress your own art moving forward?
I want to try to bring more oriental influence into the images, but always, somehow, keeping my twist. I don’t want my work to look like someone else’s.
And it doesn’t.