Known for creating harmonious works that beautifully capture imagery and emotion in an intoxicating blend, Mab Matiere Noire is a self-taught artists currently residing in Brussels. There is a palpable compassion in each piece. Moments of victory, sadness, ecstasy, joy; all of her work is an image of grace and strength. Mab's tagline "Radical Tenderness" is reflected in her constant approach to tattooing as an inclusive and kind space meant to be shared in celebration of this beautiful life.
Merging Matisse-esque expression with Asian aesthetics, Mab speaks here on her journey to become a tattooist, why she considers herself a "perpetual apprentice", and her greatest moments of gratefulness.
How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?
I had my first encounter with tattoos as a kid with counter scene movies. I always admired people who were changing their appearance using surgeries, tattoos, make-up or clothing; it shaped my idea of identity very strongly at an early age. I looked at tattooing as an art form and a cultural expression while I was studying fine arts and when I learned about European tattooing history and iconography. I became interested in contemporary tattoo artists who were using references such as old etching books, Flemish paintings, modern or pop art and I was very interested in how tattooing was changing it’s iconography and was not referring to it’s own traditions anymore. Tattooing looked like a very dynamic medium to explore.
How has your style evolved over time? What inspires your artwork?
I have a hard time saying that I have a style. Artists build a style over decades of work and dedication. I feel that I explore subjects that I am attracted to. My main subjects are women. I love being a woman tattooing women on women. I used to do a lot of designs based on modern art pieces but nowadays I started drawing my take on more "Traditional" subject matters such as big cats, cranes, mermaids, dragons, and infuse some of my tricks, references and ideas. I am inspired by the visual world we are living in; I see a visual ad or a museum painting as equally interesting. They have the same potential in terms of visual impact and discussion. Images have their own language and I see tattooing as an opportunity to be part of the discussion.
What have been your greatest accomplishments and struggles over the years? How do you define success?
My biggest accomplishment is be to be tattooing on a daily basis after years of doubts and hard work, transitioning from my previous field of work to tattooing was a big deal for me. I started to tattoo at home and I have been invited by the shop Demain J’arrête. I am currently working in in Brussels, Belgium and joined the team when they opened the shop 3 years ago. Since then I've worked with the kindest and most genuine people. I am blessed to also be working in Paris with Les Maux Bleus every month and to be a recurrent guest in London with The Circle’ s team.
I feel very lucky to be working among artists I look up to and admire. 5 years ago I had a full time job and in between shifts I was tattooing or drawing. I was running all day long hoping one day I could make a living out of tattooing. What feels like success to me is to be waking up in the morning and to be excited about the day ahead, it is to see customers coming back for more tattoos through the years, it is to receive invitations from studios I would have never dared to ask.
What have been some of your favorite travel experiences? Why do you think travel is so important for artistic and personal growth?
It’s hard to pick up one trip I went on that was the most memorable. I've traveled in many parts of the world since I was a kid because my Mum was a flight attendant. Maybe the strangest one would be being in Tokyo during an earthquake in Japan. I have been blessed to be invited by awesome people and studios and the invitation which moved me the most was at Salon Serpent in Amsterdam. I am a self taught artist and consider myself a perpetual apprentice so I always look up to other artists processes and techniques to enrich mine. It is vital for me to travel and keep growing in this regard.
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I think tattooing right now brings a strong sense of community and self-awareness at the same time. People want to wear what they stand for; it seems comforting. I hope the future of the tattoo industry will be more inclusive and reflect the changes that are occurring now. The business needs diverse operators. I suggest it also needs more diverse representation through social media. Tattooing is part of the discussion on how we show bodies, for example.
Beyond creating art, what are you really passionate about? How do you spend your vacations? What do you wish you had more time for?
Before tattooing I worked as a sommelier in the restaurant business. I am very passionate about wines and gastronomy; I have a lot of chefs and cooks as friends. My free time is mostly spent around a table with them enjoying fine dining. I recently decided to start learning ceramics, another subject matter that I enjoy tattooing, just for the sake of it. I usually spend holidays with my family in France or England where we eat a lot, probably drink too much while having passionate discussions about life. I guess this is the French way of living. Wish I could have more time to be a foster family for dogs.
Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?
As everyone probably does, I hope next year I can travel more, work and meet with artists and studios. Meanwhile I’ll be working on prints and future objects, stay tuned.