Miki Vialetto is known for not only starting Tattoo Life Magazine, a publication that many tattoo aficionado's and artists consider their first look into the tattoo world, but also for coordinating The London Tattoo Convention. Held yearly at Tobacco Dock, the convention plays host to some of the globe's most incredible artists thanks to Miki's unwavering high quality standards. His support of the industry, as well as his eye for new talent, upholds the best of the best of the tattoo community. In this interview, he opened up about how he was able to make his dreams a reality.
When did you get into tattoos and why is it something you’re passionate about?
I started to love tattooing at the age of 9 years old when I got Dr Steel...He was the enemy of Big Jim from Mattel.. he was a pirate with a dragon tattooed on his chest and since than I knew I was going to be tattooed myself...my father was drawing on me fake tattoos all the times when I was a kid and I got my first one at 17 by Gian Maurizio Fercioni. He helped me to understand more and more about this world and in 1993 I met a publisher and we started to talk about doing the first European tattoo magazine...it came out as the first issue of Tattoo Revue, it was called Tattoo Planet in USA, in June 1993 and since then, for 25 years, I did my best to improve the culture of tattooing world wide in all the forms I could: doing magazines, books, tattoo convention, art exhibitions, blogs, et cetera. I always loved tattooing because it is not the ultimate form of self expression but because it is, and was, a world of mystery, dreams, love, hate, and represents all the things that I always loved in my life.
How did Tattoo Life Magazine start? What was/is your mission, philosophy and purpose behind the creation of it? How has it developed over the years?
In 1993 I was in the biker world. I was just finishing high school and there was a magazine in town that sometimes published articles about tattoos and piercing...I went to the publisher asking if he was willing to pay me the fuel for going to bike meetings so I could take photos and write articles about bikers and their tattoos. The publisher was so happy about the result that I proposed to him the first tattoo magazine, he accepted and we started. I always wanted to be a tattooer but my drawing skills were very low...so I invented something that allowed me to be close with tattooing without becoming a mediocre tattooer. My philosophy has always been to elevate tattooing especially in the '90's when it was still considered something extreme and had nothing to do with art...so I did everything I could to change this point of view, and tried to teach what the potentials of good tattoos were to the public, tried to teach the ethics behind the tattoo world. I think in the last 25 years I've been one of the most active tattoo promoters in the world.
You’ve been part of the tattoo community for years...how has it changed over the years? What are the pros and cons of things like social media, technology, etc. on the industry?
Evolution always bring good things and bad things.. the good thing is that the art of tattooing has grown massively. Now there are so many tattooers that come from art school with huge talent and the designs and techniques are incredible now...more and more museums are accepting tattooing and tattoo art, so it is finally recognized as an art form. The bad things are that it has become so popular and democratic that it is becoming very boring...there's no mystery anymore, the designs are always the same over and over, and lots of people that have no passion for tattooing enter this world just for money, business, and they transform it into one industry. Lots of tattooers are looking to be famous in social media and in order to do so they started to use photoshop on their tattoos to make it looks much better and brighter than reality...lots of artists don't want to think about how a tattoo will look in 3 to 5 years but they are only interested how it looks at the time of the photo. So many tattoos that I see today will not last more than 1 year. I think tattooing like that is like living a big lie.
The London Tattoo Convention brings in an immense amount of talent, icons, and collectors. What is it like working with people like Mark Mahoney, Eddy Deutsche and more? How has it enriched your life?
I started the London Tattoo Convention after 11 years of already doing my job as a publisher. It has been so successful since the beginning thanks to my job as a publisher of Tattoo Life magazine. I was traveling all over the world and meeting all the most famous and interesting tattooers world wide...in the '90's the tattoo world was like a family. I was traveling in all over the continent and all the time I was visiting a tattooer. Mostly I ended up sleeping on their sofa, spending some days with them. So when I started London I was just inviting all my friends from all over the world... and it's still like this. Every year, of course, I try to check the work of thousands and thousands artists and I love to discover talents: keep in mind that back then there was no social media so the only way a tattooer could become well known was thanks to magazines and conventions. So all my life I tried to discover new talents and promote them like Shige, or Jeff Gogue, or Gakkin, Nissaco and so on...lots of tattooers were not well known until I started to invite them to my convention and doing articles on them in my magazines...and still today with London I launch new tattooers that, after London, they start to be world famous...like Julian Siebert...he was not really well known but after I invited him to London, and he won the best of the show 3 years ago, his life totally changed....
Who are your personal heroes in the tattoo industry? Who are your favorite artists, tattooers or not, who inspire your love for this community?
My first hero will be always Felix Leu. Even though he is gone, many years ago, he was my godfather in tattooing. He and Loretta Leu taught me so much that every time, even today, when I have to make an important decision I think about him and what he would say about it...and of course Filip Leu. For me he is the most talented tattooer in the world, this is why I have over 90% of my body tattooed and the majority of my tattoos are done by him...other than Gian Maurizio Fercioni, that was my first tattoo that make me feel in love with this world. But without the Leu's I would probably not be where I am now.
But I get inspiration from so many different artists: from Tin Tin to Theo Jak, Jondix, Mike the Athens, Bill and Juni Salmon, Ami James...in my career I have met so many talented and great artists that it is impossible to write all their names, but I have thanks in my heart for all of them...
You’ve built one of the most iconic magazines in the industry, and run one of the best conventions around the globe...What was the best advice you got along the way? What advice do you have for others who are trying to do what they love?
I think if you do anything with true love you will be successful...the problem is that too many people care about the money, and this is why they can fail...true love and passion is the key to success in everything you want to do.