Interview with Tattooist Peter Laeviv: I am the Water You are the Seed

Interview with Tattooist Peter Laeviv: I am the Water You are the Seed

In this interview with London tattoo artist Peter Laeviv he talks about his inspirations, his custom creations, and his artistic philosophy.

Like the sketches of Michelangelo or Da Vinci, merged with the surrealism of Magritte and the star smattered cosmology of Stephen Hawking, Peter Laeviv’s tattoos are intricate drawings on skin. Sometimes he blurs the lines of realism and abstraction. He also uses X-ray-like effects, an MC Esherian replication technique that boggles the mind, and he also likes to employ sacred geometry...Peter Laeviv imbues his artwork with the details and concentration of a master, especially because each of these pieces is custom. No two are alike...and every inked line on his clients skin is a poignant aspect of a bigger picture. 

A resident at South City Market in London, Peter took some time out to share his philosophies, inspirations, and working process with me in an interview. 

How did you get into tattooing and was it something you were always drawn to?

Definitely not the way you should get into tattooing. As a kid I was always drawing, painting, playing music - I had to find ways to entertain myself as I was an only child until the age of 7. My mom encouraged me when I was a teenager to try out tattooing, but I had the prejudice that this artform was for tough bikers only. I didn’t feel the industry was very welcoming for outsiders. Moreover none of the traditional styles I came across resonated with me in particular. Later when I got into engineering university I had to put my artistic ambitions on hold due to lack of free time. I really was missing the freedom and the thrill of creation. The fact that I didn’t have enough money as a student eventually pushed me over the edge to try out tattooing. I got an old coil machine from a tattooer to play around with. I was watching him work, but I taught the basics to myself the only way I knew, by research. Then I moved on to practicing on silicone pads - those were too easy and boring to tattoo so I quickly switched to my my own thigh. When eventually I felt confident enough I accepted requests from family and friends, later 1-2 “clients” each month. For a long time I didn’t take my hobby too seriously, rather concentrated on my studies. It was only when I moved to the Netherlands to do my industrial design masters that priorities have changed. I was in a bad place mentally and the structurally strict environment didn’t do me any good either. I asked myself the question: Would I want to live a 9to5 office life? I decided to go for my passion, hoping that I wouldn’t be longing for weekends ever again - and I quit university. That was almost a year ago. From that point on I set very high standards and goals for myself within the tattooing industry, and went for it.

I want to emphasize this is not the correct and responsible way to get into tattooing nor would I recommend it to anyone. If you are interested in getting into this industry you should find a proper apprenticeship where first and foremost you are valued as a person, secondly you are actually being taught theoretical and practical skills in favor for your help around the shop.

Who are your personal tattoo heroes? Any visuals or art movements you feel particularly drawn to, and why?

I respect the rich tradition of tattooing and the styles that evolved over time through many different cultures. Personally, I am drawn to artists that do their own thing while refusing to fit into any kind of art movement or trend. I try to create and constantly improve my own distinguishable world within the tattooing scene, in hope that eventually a glance would be enough to tell whether or not a piece is my creation. It is an everlasting process of learning. As you change and evolve as a person, inevitably your art will do too.

Each of your tattoos feels very personal. What is the process like in getting a tattoo from you? Is each one custom, based off a client's idea, or are they surreal images taken straight from your mind?

Each design is personal, custom designed for the client. I always ask for their impressions, the feeling or philosophy that is to be conveyed, a short story, what should it stand for or represent etc. Complete honesty and openness is a must and any detail that might inspire or help the design process is significant. If I find the idea interesting and I see a prospect of it evolving into a great piece I will accept the project. I always ask for full creative freedom regarding the design with a preliminary input of the client of course. Then I let my imagination run. The client plants the seed but I am the one to water it, and there are no exceptions.

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Can you talk about what it’s like being a tattoo artist in London? Why do you think London is such a great place for artists to be?

London is an amazing city with great opportunities and interesting people. There are many cool brands that are open for collaborations. I love this city, it is so vibrant and alive! To be fair I have only been here for half a year, but I only had positive experiences with both my clients and the team at the shop. I feel like London is so diverse, that it gives plenty of space for any artist to do their own thing. The tattooing scene here is quite packed though and overwhelmingly traditional. This results in a market gap for tattoo artists that bring something new to the table and from which contemporary ideologies could benefit.

Your current home is South City Market, which is an awesome shop. What do you think is special about that particular studio, and why was it the place you wanted to work?

You could say South City Market is one of a new and emerging breed of appointment only tattoo studios. The design of the shop is very minimal and clean. Black and white aesthetics are combined with a lot of green plants which result in a calming environment. The walls are white and plain, without any taxidermy or flash pieces. Ambient music is playing in the background aimed to relax both the clientele and the artists. Due to the studio being minimal, it becomes very apparent if something isn’t in its place - so constant decluttering is a must to keep everything neat. For me one of the key requirements when it comes to choosing a tattoo shop is hygiene, at which SCM excels. All these elements combined with a helpful and friendly team of artists result in a welcoming safe space for anyone interested in getting tattooed regardless if it's their first or their 100th tattoo.

Many tattoo artists these days seem to have a working philosophy behind their work. What would you say is yours? What makes a good tattoo/tattoo studio? What does success mean to you?

I am often asked the meaning behind my designs. In my opinion my thought process or how I was feeling during creating a piece shouldn’t matter. What is more important is if the design evokes an emotion or a thought within you - or not. When you start analyzing the circumstances around a creation, or while reading a poem you try to figure out what the poet could have meant, you are denying yourself the joy of creativity as the “consumer”. The interpretation of art should always be personal in my opinion, or there could even be a case that it’s not even needed. There is no eternal truth or meaning anyways. We all experience reality through our individual consciousness influenced by different past circumstances, which result in separate perceptions of reality. So who is to decide? My aim is to capture life stories into designs that could stand the test of a lifetime and still spark a thought process for the observer. On that note, infinite “correct” interpretations could exist simultaneously, while the owner of the design would know the real story.

What are you favorite places to visit? What do you wish you had more time for? What do you do on your days off?

I love to travel and experience different cultures and traditions. I spent my early childhood in four different countries and that greatly broadened my way of thinking. There are so many places I haven’t been to and there is so much yet to discover. Lately I’ve been strictly focused on my work, but I am aiming towards a more balanced lifestyle. In those very rare occasions that I am having a day off, my designer vein surfaces and I visit exhibitions and museums, finding sources for inspiration anywhere apart from the tattooing scene. My biggest muse is discovering the rules of the universe and learning about theoretical physics. I am absolutely fascinated with space. On my commutes or while working I love listening to long form podcasts hosting smart and inspiring people. 

Are there any collabs, projects, plans or shows coming up that you’d like to share?

There are some exciting news coming up, but unfortunately I cannot give away anything yet. If you are interested in following my story you can do so by following my Instagram account, Peter Laeviv. Guest spots along with anything exciting will be shared and updated there.

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