With Heart and Eyes Open: Interview with Tattoo Artist Enrico Grosso

With Heart and Eyes Open: Interview with Tattoo Artist Enrico Grosso

In this interview with tattoo artist Enrico Grosso, aka Henry Big, he talks about tattoo philosophies and his love for the NY tattoo scene.

Traditional tattooing is an iconic aesthetic form within the community, but there are some artists who imbue this classic style with their own perspective. Enrico Grosso, also known as Henry Big, is one of these artists who has merged the limited color palette, crisp bold lines, and archetypal imagery of American Trad with undercurrents of 90's tribal, cubist abstractions, with a slight nod to folk art. 

Based in Brooklyn, at Greenpoint Tattoo Co., Enrico Grosso has added an a unique element to the New York tattoo scene. His devotion to the art form, and the philosophical elements he brings to his practice, are indicative of his passion, kindness, and hope to inspire others through visual expression. 

I think finally finding a purpose for my drawing felt very meaningful...I wanted to belong, to be part of something.

Of course, the question that everyone always wants to know: what is your artistic background? How did you get into tattooing?

I’ve been drawing my whole life, as far as I can remember. When I was about 11 or 12 I started playing guitar and formed a band with a couple other kids; we lived in a very small town in northern Italy and it felt like a miracle to get involved into something exciting like that. We would hide in our friend basement and play hard rock and smoke hundreds of cigarettes and feel free ahaha. That made me wanna channel my visual creativity in the form of flyers or any kind of artwork for the band. 

I think finally finding a purpose for my drawing felt very meaningful. I then went to a high school that was focused on graphic design honestly only because I thought I could learn more stuff to promote the band and stay creative. I recently found at my parents house the original drawing for our first show ever, May 1995. We were 13 years old. Later on when I was a little older and able to go into the nearest big city often I got into the local punk-hardcore scene. We’d go see shows and kids in bands would have traditional tattoos, especially American, Brits and northern Euro bands, and I thought I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be like that, I wanted to belong, to be part of something. Tattoos were the badge to show that you were from the underworld. I’m talking late 90s early 2000s, no nostalgia at all, but environmentally speaking things were a little different back then. 

So, I slowly started to get tattooed Traditional American stuff and eventually started painting flash and then learned from an old friend of mine Elia Calabrese. My first tattoo I got was a tribal piece though, a design that I retraced from a tattoo magazine. I went to this lady from Argentina who tattooed out of her house in my village and got it done. I think I was inspired by Max Cavalera from Sepultura; he had tribal on him.

Portrait of tattoo artist Enrico Grosso aka Big Henry by Anthony Dicaro #EnricoGrosso #HenryBig

Although you clearly have foundations in Traditional iconography, your style is very much your own. Can you talk about your inspirations, and how your style has evolved over the years?

Thank you. I think, as I said to someone else already, it was all an attempt to imitate artists that I really liked, failing in the process and coming out with this compromise between my influences and the way I naturally draw. Maybe it has to do with the fact that at the beginning of my career what I was doing was very reference-less. I didn't have books with old flash at hand like I had later. I had to imitate from photos I’d seen in magazines or on Myspace and try to mimic what was making those images so striking. Like learning a language by its sound not by its words. I don’t think it’s the best way to learn something at all, but in the end, some way, it partially worked for me.

Who are the tattooers, or fine artists/movements, that have inspired you over the years?

Later on with social media I found a lot more people that I liked and influenced me, but from day one, before all this, I was really really into Stuart Cripwell and Luca Mamone, and I still am. Seeing Stuart's flash from his first years at Spider Murphys was basically what made me start painting flash. It was 2007/2008. Mamone was the man and still is, and he was one of them guys who really inspired me in wanting to be a nice human on top of a capable person. Like when I met Chris O’Donnell few years later here in Brooklyn, same feeling. Stizzo at that time was a big influence too, I got some tattoos by him around that time.

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Traditional tattoo flash by Enrico Grosso aka Henry Big #EnricoGrosso #HenryBig #traditional #americantraditional #trad #traditionaltattoo

Do you have any other arts practices beyond tattooing? Are there any other creative techniques that you’d really like to try out?

I paint with acrylics on canvas, paper and cardboard. Mainly patterns, plain colors, shapes. Abstract stuff that makes me feel good when I look at it. Like there is life in it, and peace also. I go through phases of being really into it and then not doing anything for months. I like it like that. I still play guitar too almost everyday. I still like to do some graphic design, very rarely though. I feel this guilt when I don’t give everything to tattooing. I feel like I wanna be creative in different ways too, but tattooing always ends up being what feels right to me.

I feel like I’m respectfully channeling something that is bigger than me, offering some kind of service, a very specific and deep one...

Many artists have a philosophy or motivation behind their work...what would you say is yours? How do you define success?

I would say in the beginning I wanted to claim my space, prove myself, I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be part of something exciting and I wanted to receive some kind of recognition to make me feel better about myself really. It was the same thing with being part of the punk scene. It was the shelter of belonging to a group. I wanted something that would finally give this small town kid the keys of the world he dreamed of. And it did. It was definitely ego driven. But also survival of some sorts. I’m grateful of all this. Once I found myself I had nothing, or less, to prove, things changed. 

Now I do it because I feel like I’m respectfully channeling something that is bigger than me, offering some kind of service, a very specific and deep one, very ritualistic. The biggest reward for me is to have a win win situation that involves my customers and me. A mutual understanding and exchange. Success is to have returning customers with whom I am able to build a relationship based on respect and trust and build large work, something that looks like what I visually have in mind, something that ultimately at least feeds both our egos ahah. I want people to leave the shop and feel like they gained something, like they are richer. Some people are open to get to that level. It's usually the people who demand less who tend to gain more; that resonates with me.

What is the best advice you feel you can give?

Make decisions that resonate in both your heart and mind.

Why do you think New York is an important place for artists to be? Why was it the place you felt you wanted to be?

The level of tattooing in New York in unbelievable. It’s been 3 years that I’ve been here and, if I think about it, it still blows my mind. I think it’s the highest concentration of talent at the moment, in any style. I think New York does different things for different people. It can be overwhelming in what it has to offer and in its demands as well. 

New York was always a special place in my mind and then life literally brought me here; I didn’t force it or anything I followed a flow I was privileged to follow. Then I ended up coming here and doing a lot of hard work on me as a person really. “Come for the fun, stay for the homework” kind of thing aha and I didn't expect that. I think this place can either humble people or give 'em an insane ego boost. So, it’s at your core to make the choice. Which way to go. Work-wise I’m happy to see throughout the time I was here, my style and quality has been steady and consistent, almost like I finally found the center of who I am as tattooer. Most importantly though, places like this inspire me because they are workshops for the humanity of tomorrow, where ideas and movements for the betterment of society come out, hubs for revolutionary ideas. That’s what it’s s super inspiring, people pushing boundaries.

What makes Greenpoint Tattoo Co. a special space?

I think we were able, thanks to our boss, John Reardon, to build a very close knit group of people who really inspire each other. That’s how I perceive it. The shop went through line up changes during the years but that just got stronger. The shop looks beautiful and bright. We painted flash on almost all surfaces available now. We have an exhibition of paintings of backpieces in October, and that’s exciting. I don't know...that place keeps me sane. I do believe we are very nice to our customers too, that’s fundamental to me. I’m also proud to see the hard work of some of us becoming something bigger, like our manager Carlos becoming an apprentice after 5 years of absolute dedication, or Elijah Abeyta finally finishing his apprenticeship and becoming such a capable tattooer in a very short amount of time thanks to a huge amount of work done. Good stuff. Also, some of us became sober or cut down distractions or worked on themselves just to become even better people and tattooers, and that’s truly inspiring.

Beyond tattooing, what are you passionate about? How do you spend your free time, and what do you do on your vacations?

I love music, design in any form. I mainly spend my free time with my girlfriend and dog, Morgan and Scout. They keep me sane too, with my eyes and heart open.

Any plans for 2019/2020 you’d like to share?

Keep going like this, keep building, I don’t ask anything else. I dream of making a book someday with tattoos, flash painted, photographs and words by me. It will happen at some point!

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