From the archives of academic Russian fine arts to fantastical sci-fi and horror, Artem Marchenko's artwork encapsulates a brilliant world created by a blend of Realism and fantasy. In this interview, Artem talks about going from an academy of art to the tattoo studio, how the industry is evolving to embrace all sorts, and why mysticism is a perfect well of inspiration for tattooing.
How did you get into tattooing and why was it something you were drawn to?
It’s all starts after I got my first tattoo. I drew a sketch for this tattoo whole week and then a tattoo master did it in 1,5 hour and I’m like “Wow! It is so cool and it’s not so painful as I thought and also what would be my next tattoo”? When I started searching more about tattoos, different styles, really interesting designs. Before I’m thinking what tattoo is more underground but it turned out what it was only on my mind because I’m known nothing about this and it was only prejudice. After a few months I and my friend, at that moment we studied at Fine art faculty in the Far East Academy of art, were invited to that tattoo studio where we learned the basics such as safety, some techniques, tricks etc. This studio works mostly with walk-in customers and after 1.5-2 years I decided to leave this studio. It was difficult to combine study and work, and I wanted to specialize in the Realistic style of tattooing. After maybe a year of working alone, my friend also left that studio and we decided to open our own studio. We found one more tattooist and opened studio. It was private little studio, working by appointment. But after 3 years, we broke up: one friend went to another city so we decided to work alone again.
Can you talk about your inspirations, and how your style has evolved since you began?
From the very beginning I liked black tattoos, as for me they look most harmonious and natural on human body, and years of studying fine art pushes me to the Realistic style. I like working with skin. When you “draw” on a person, on volume, it’s a new awesome experience. It was like a “breath of fresh air” after traditional painting, when you see an image in 3D, from different angles, when you can show the real dynamics of a static image. And of course this “canvas” have own specific-aging, dissolving of ink, different skin tones- what looks good in paper not usually looks great in skin. When you need to be considerate with “canvas” shapes it’s always challenge. I’m starting from tattooing classic sculpture images, also movie/game characters and now I’m doing more horror\mystical stuff.
What inspires you?
Books. Most of all mystical/fantasy/sci-fi. I like H.P. Lovecraft stories. There is great source of inspiration, history, music, movies, games. Different tattoo styles, painters, sculptures, photography...any art I think. And of course traveling . When you meet with new people/culture it’s very inspiring for me. I want to know more about their culture and find interesting moments/images which I can use in my art.
What is your artistic philosophy? What do you hope to give to the world with your art?
I think now I want to focus on some mystical/myth/horror projects. In my opinion mystical and tattoos will always be together, since tattoos were a defense from some evil, or for good luck , or something else: not just “ a drawing on skin”. But I’m also in love with traditional art. I grew up on Russian fine art, like the art group “Peredvizhniki” for example. Also I prefer when you can see raw material, like when you see dots from needles on skin, when doing your artwork. Such as, brushstrokes in oil painting for example. There is not clean shapes or smooth lines in real life. There is always raw textures and it's not scary to combine a “clean” technique so your image will be close to “life looking ". And I want to combine my years of studying fine art and mystical meaning of tattoos.
What advice do you have for young artists trying to get into tattooing? What was the best advice you received when you first started tattooing?
More drawing, but drawing wisely. They need to understand what and for what are they drawing. Make a short plan of what you need to draw. Always try to use new mediums like oil, watercolors, sepia ink and others. It really pushes your drawings forward. For me, the best advice when I started tattooing was “don’t rush”.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What things need to change, and what needs to stay the same?
I think we have a great future; the last few years many talented artist came into tattoo industry. Cartridge systems, wireless machines, iPad Pro and other stuff which really helps to make the process easier. Now you can start doing good tattoos really early. Also “a pound of flesh” pieces which you can exhibit or use for training are very helpful and gives you freedom to be doing what ever you want. And I think traditional methods of tattooing are also very popular like hand poke, tebori, and others. But today is part of a social media era: people are seeing more images of tattoos on Instagram, instead of real life. So, now you just need to take a good picture. Today it’s become part of the “process of tattooing”. I think things which we really don’t need in the industry are just removing themselves over time, so we on the right way anyway.
Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?
I like cooking, traveling, like camping in wild nature, hiking. I like to spend time with my family. Also playing video/board games, reading books, watching movies/tv series but sometimes it serves as a source of tattoo design so it’s not "free time”. I think if you are an artist you are working every day because an idea can come at any moment.
Any future goals, plans, collabs, etc. that you’d like to share?
I want to see some cold places like Norway, Himalayas. So more traveling I guess, that is the main thing. And of course I want to do more tattooing. What is a trip without work? :)