Ask most people who’ve endured the slow burn of a hand poked tattoo and they’ll tell you there’s no comparison when it comes to pain, but ask Bruno Levy — artist at Fleur Noire Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — and he’ll likely tell you there’s no better way to reflect. Levy learned how to tattoo almost 10 years ago in Nepal, although technically he’s only been a practicing handpoke artist for two and a half of those years. After a nearly five year hiatus, Levy rekindled the flame after his first hand poked piece. “I fell in love with that organic, simple concept of hand poked tattoos,” he explains. “You don’t need a machine, you don’t need electricity. It’s a total reversal of the idea of the craft.”
"...when you’re learning, you’re gonna fuck up, and fucking up on people’s skin was a really big [fear] for me"
Nowadays, Levy’s work is best described as hand poked meets old school (think Slowerblack circa the earlier years), but there was once a time when Levy was just a meandering twenty-something learning on a machine he bought from a vendor in Bangkok. “I thought it was a really interesting medium that I wanted to try, but I wasn’t really into tattooing at the time,” Levy explains. “I think I only had one tattoo, and I didn’t know anything about it. I had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.” Under the guidance of a professional tattoo artist, he began his apprenticeship, meticulously cleaning stations, and drawing over and over until finally producing a piece he was satisfied with. “I practiced for over six months before I actually started tattooing, because I really wanted to be perfect. I think that that held me back creatively and professionally because when you’re learning, you’re gonna fuck up, and fucking up on people’s skin was a really big [fear] for me.” It would be nearly five years before Levy would pick up a tattoo tool again — this time in New York.
After a rather successful run with other art mediums, including his manipulation of video in real time that landed him performances at the Guggenheim as well as the Times Square jumbotron, Levy’s serendipitous decision to get a hand poked tattoo is what made his career come full circle. “I didn’t really miss [tattooing] that much, but then I got a hand poked tattoo, and it reminded me of everything that I loved about tattooing,” he recalls. “The time that it takes is appealing to me. Everything is so rushed, and everything is so sped up… that to take time to cherish the meaningfulness of [getting a tattoo] is really important to me.”
Today, two years after picking up his first hand poke tool and nearly ten years after picking up his first machine, Levy is now a full time tattoo artist. Inspired by the old school artists of the ‘50s, Levy’s work is a hybrid of hand poked simplicity and traditional influence. Calling on the classic imagery of sparrows, lady heads, and flowers, his work is a love letter to the modesty found in the work of those iconic tattoo artists of yesteryear. “I’m very inspired by western tattooing — all the Sailor Jerry, more curvaceous, more colorful, and almost cartoon-like sense of illustration,” he explains. “I like the idea of tattoos being classics, and having that kind of aesthetic of simplicity and balance where it’s not too crazy, and there’s not too many decorative or ornate aspects.”
Levy’s history with tattooing is a long and complicated one, and while it may have taken him nearly five years to find his way back to the craft, it seems the two were always meant to be. “I love it,” he explains. “There’s nothing really like it — that someone chooses to take your work with them for the rest of their lives — it’s incredible.”