With the patience and artistry of a true craftsman, Blame Max creates incredible pieces with a tried and true ancient practice: hand poke tattooing. One of the oldest forms of human expression, Blame Max continues to evolve and flourish this art form. His portfolio is full of illustrative tattoos that are clean, bold, and sweetly poetic.
In this interview he talks a bit about how he got started, why he loves hand poke tattoos and how tattooing helped create a life that he'd always hoped for.
Where did you grow up and when did you notice you were interested in art?
I come from the western part of Ukraine, the city of Ivano-Frankivsk to be exact. I’ve been drawing since I can remember, taking shorter or longer breaks in the meantime. When I was about 10 years old I took a couple of drawing classes. We were allowed to draw whatever we wanted. I gave up cause I could do the same at home.
Where did the handle Blame Max come from?
It’s kind of silly. I did first 3-4 tats for my friends, we were pretending that I was “an artist”, so I started walking around the dorm acting like one. Someone came up with an idea of setting up a tattoo profile on Instagram, just for fun. My ex listened to a singer called I Blame Coco at the time, that’s where the name basically came from, haha. I wanted to change it later on, but didn’t come up with anything else.
Can you talk about leaving the Ukraine and learning to tattoo in Austria?
I can, but it’s kind of a long and complex story. I’ll try to make it short… Every man in Ukraine is obliged to complete military service either at the age of 18 or right after college. I studied in Poland and wasn’t planning on going back home after graduation. That’s more or less when Donbass got fucked up and every guy my age had to report to the army and hit the front line. That was rather unappealing, so I stayed in Poland and ignored the call-ups. I got eight of them over one year, the last one wasn’t from the army but from prison: 3 to 5 years for desertion. I stayed and worked in Poland until my visa expired.
At that point I had a choice: stay in Poland illegally, go back home and join the army/get incarcerated or apply for refugee status on the basis of my life being in danger. I went with the last option, but to make it more interesting I decided to leave for Austria, a country I hadn’t visited before.
I spent a year in refugee camps, they turned my application down and I got deported back to Poland. My deportation is a whole different story, I’ve decided to skip on it or it’d turn this interview into a book. I got handed over to border guards who told me that they could deport me to Ukraine or let me try to seek refuge in Poland once again, but they also warned me, that it wouldn’t work, because no Ukrainian got granted asylum, and that I’d have to wait on a verdict for another half a year. According to the EU law, war doesn’t make you eligible for asylum, quite the opposite, you’re supposed to stay and fight for your country. Unless, on top of that, you’re being discriminated based on your race or religion. So, as long as your application is being processed, you can live in a refugee camp or organize something on your own. You’re not allowed to work, a reminder: the process takes about half a year, but you get an allowance of €140 a month. If you work illegally, you get deported. €140 excluding rent and food it’s nothing you’d get too crazy about. I paid for a €100 dorm and started looking for a way to make money without leaving it. My friends decided I should start tattooing on them, they even paid for needles and ink! So, I did not practice in Austria :) And over that six month period I found a legal loophole, got myself a permanent residence card, and I don’t have to go back!
What do you love about tattooing? How has the tattoo community enriched your life?
I love every little bit of it, and even if I had to tattoo infinity symbols every day for the next couple of decades, I’d still consider myself a lucky man! Leave alone being able to do my own designs and watch how they make other people happy. Everything I’ve got, I’ve gotten through tattooing, end of the story. That’s also how I’ve met most of the people I have around. It’s a lovely profession, gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Why were you attracted to hand poke tattooing over machine? Who has inspired your style or who are tattooists/artists that you look up to?
I’ve always been an analogue guy, but it’s not that I’m not interested in machine tattooing, I’m interested in every technique which can improve me. I still think I can learn a lot from hand poke. That’s how every profession works, the more you know, the more you see you still need to learn. I love a lot of artists, but if I had to list five, I’d say: Adam Vu Noir, Marcelina Urbańska, Shouldworry, Acoupe and Tyler A. Baker.
Beyond art and tattoos, what are you really passionate about? What can you not live without? What would you be doing if you weren’t tattooing?
I’ve always been into sports. Martial arts when I was young, and currently climbing. If I wasn’t tattooing, I’d find a hard, physically demanding and well-paid job where you get your hands dirty, that’s for sure. Before I took up tattooing I used to do many different things, and I’d always find the physically demanding tasks the most satisfying.
What advice do you have for others trying to find a place in this world?
If I had the right to give any advice on that, I’d say: don’t listen to other people.
Do you have any travel plans, projects, collabs, merch, etc. coming up that you’d like to share? Any hopes for this year or the next?
I hope I’ll be able to get my documents sorted so that I could legally go abroad again :D I’ll think about collabs then. Merch is a cool thing, but I’m tired of it being sort of limited to one item - I have plenty of t-shirts, while I’d actually like to keep supporting fellow tattooists by buying different clothing. That’s why I’ve made panties, third edition coming out soon. I also have one more idea, I’d rather not talk about yet :)