Known for her bold portraits of punk rock femme fatales and slinky sexpot vamps, Marcelina Urbanska is a tattooist based in Katowice, Poland. Blending high contrast graphic arts with Neo Traditional, Old School, and Japanese iconography, her designs are immediately recognizable as being created by her own hand. In this interview, Marcelina was kind enough to talk about how she fell in love with tattooing, who her artistic heroes are, and how she feels about the current landscape of the tattoo industry.
Portrait of Marcelina Urbanska #MarcelinaUrbanska
How did you get into tattooing and why were you drawn to it?
Hey, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to let me share a few things. To answer your question - the first time I walked into a tattoo shop was when I was 15. Straight away I got this gut feeling and a drive telling me that this is a path for me. I’m a very thought driven person so getting such a powerful feeling at a time set me onto this direction. Even though I have a terrible memory I remember it was a sunny Wednesday, I remember the smell of Dettol in the air and that slightly annoyed, but kind face of the receptionist whom I was asking tons of questions of how to become a tattooer as my friend was getting a simple piercing in her ear done in the next room. It was a very professional shop, I'd say one of the best at the time. Lots of art on the walls, convention posters, books. I felt like a child at the toy store. Even as a small kid I have never had a slightest idea of who I want to be and when I found it I have thrown all myself into it.
I've drawn since I can remember; funny how I still go way back in time to understand why I like certain things, inspiration and technique-wise. For example, when I was around 7, I remember being obsessed with the electrical danger, skull and lightning sign you could find on pylons. Staring at it for ages, not really knowing why. A white skull, crossbones and a bald red lightning going through the middle. I wonder why I haven't tattooed it on myself yet.
In tattooing, I’ve always admired how it helps you combine your inner professional adult with the inner creative child. And there’s no better recipe for a great life. At least personally, for me. I guess I’m an old soul looking for a chill life and this gives me some sort of freedom. It's brought a lot of friends, crazy talks, pondering over the idea of "for the rest of your life but not forever". It's such a personal thing between you and someone who comes your way. Even though it's painful, it's very truthful and beautiful. Getting deeper into the "why" factor kind of blows my mind.
How has your style evolved over time? What inspires your artwork?
In the very beginning, around 2007, it was a time when Neo Traditional was the pioneer in (I don't like to call it this way but it is what it is) tattoo fashion. My favorites were the dark Derek Noble and beautiful Lars Uwe. Before tattooing, I was doing a lot of illustrations. I would mostly draw and use pens, portraits were always the most fun. I felt like an alien, observing, learning the human form. I still tend to do that. I tend to romanticize over the perplexingly fascinating minds. On the other hand the more I tattooed the more I've appreciated and respected the simplicity. It seems like such a defined and in your face thing to do. I admire people who have the guts to be so bald, throughout the years I'd be obsessed with Traditional tattooing. How raw it could still get within the frames of this expression. Lee Knight's freedom and uniqueness amazes me till this day. Going further with my gut over the years I've came back to my illustrative nature and for now my two absolute favorites are Valerie Vargas and Chris Conn.
Putting tattooing aside, music is my main inspiration to create. Stuff like Les Rallizes Denudes and Tones on Tail really get me going. Old movie posters, Tonalism, Modigliani, photography of Josef Sudek. And again, people. Not all, but certain people just have "it".
What have been your favorite moments during your tattoo career? What do you love about tattooing?
Getting to understand the world around me more, understanding things that people share with you, understanding how important it is to give, understanding how everything changes, learning to be patient, yet to make bold decisions while creating, the ability to sleep a lot haha but also growing up. Every time I cut out the stencil I feel like I'm in an adult kindergarten, we all want to be able to pay our rent, go to the doctor when our wrists hurt, maybe get an animal to care after. Though we still stay young and tend to escape inwards. I don't expect a lot from my life, I don't chase the fancy things so I appreciate that freedom my work gives me. To spoil my inner kid from time to time.
Speaking ego-wise, tattooing Conn was the biggest achievement in my career. On the other hand he became a dear friend who I share a lot of common interests with so maybe it's not so much of an ego trip. I don't know, I'm constantly trying not to explain but just telling what my gut says. Bob Roberts just followed me on Instagram too which left me shocked and still for a long while.
Dropping everything and moving to England when I was 19 was one of the best things I've done as well. Tattooing wasn't very popular in Poland back then so doing such a bold thing really pushed me to grow as an artist and most importantly as a person.
What is the tattoo community like in Poland? What do you love about Katowice?
Poland doesn't have any traditions coming from the history of tattooing. Communism fell in 1989, before that only criminals had them done in prisons, it was pretty much illegal and forbidden. So, because it is such a new thing it keeps surprising me with where people can take it. There's a lot of variety, anyone could find a specialist in any style which is just incredible. For example, Pajęczyna, the shop I work at has four people doing completely different, yet original things. Everyone learns from one another, gets inspired. It doesn't feel like a competition. We can allow ourselves to do our own thing. I'd have to say the majority of Polish people are getting these tiny, delicate or Ignorant work done.
As tattooing became more popular, the internet happened. I see a link there, it appeals to me as the new fashion. I kind of see the Ignorant being the new punk. Which is absolutely fine, it always was fashionable to be different. And whatever keeps it alive and flowing and moving. Maybe someone gets inspired in their way to create something completely different. That's why I have a lot of good feelings about the community here. Of course there's the drama aspect to it, like anywhere else, like in any profession. But yeah, this one is kind of specific, you can be any kind of artist you want to be, right? Freedom could be fatal for some, I mean, opening for bad to take you over.
I moved to Katowice almost 5 years ago and since the day I got here I feel the calm feeling inside, almost like being home. It's a smaller city and I've always been more drawn to them. I can admire the bigger cities, I've lived in Krakow for most of my life but I find it draining me. I'd say that people are so much nicer and open here than the other parts of the country. And there's a lot of great music coming from these areas too. I like the fact that mountains and forests are close to me too, I couldn't live by the sea. I can't really explain it, it's just a feeling I have. Who knows what I will feel in 20 years? I'll see...
How do you feel about the future of the tattoo industry? What needs to change and what should stay the same?
I feel like tattooing is doing the best it's ever been and it will take care of itself. The only real worry I have is the current Covid-19 situation, which makes my palms sweaty to think that I could be stuck home again for ages. I have the positive thinking on my side, that we will win eventually and continue living more normally. We have to stay conscious. But I can't predict the future in any way. Thinking about the future makes you prepare for things that are usually not true or never happen so I can't be bothered. I have to know for sure. I've tried it too many times, to only come to the conclusion, that you can't control anything. Especially tattooing. Isn't it supposed to be artistic, freeing and the best job in the world? Why put any constraints on it. It's like a kid you tell not to do things and it will do it anyway.
I suppose I could talk about the wrong things that are happening that have been happening since the very beginning of the so-called "industry". But like I've mentioned before, if you're a bad person you are a bad person. No matter what your job is, age, height, whatever. We can never eliminate that. Or who are we to say what to change? We can never know everything, or always be right. Personally speaking, it doesn't work in the way of stating what we should change. Because even if it does, for a day, a week, it won't last. That's human nature. That's the chaotic reality of life we try to control so much it drives people crazy. We forget about being good to ourselves and people around us. I'd say it's the only realistic change we can make.
Don't get me wrong though, people who fight for the change in different aspects are one of the toughest and badass people. I admire the amount of strength but as much as I know myself, I'll fight in my own little way, by myself, by doing what I do best and making some people happy, keeping the thing alive without expectations for what should happen to me or others in the future. I have nothing but good intentions and an open heart. I see tattooing as this big, continuous sea of events, energy, thoughts, constantly stirred and flowing. If you've read Solaris you know what I mean. It's simply too big of a concept to change. It doesn't belong to you, to me, or anyone. It's only up to you what you put into it. Or what you take from it. I simply try to stay the same, or better, give the most I can so I can sleep soundly because after a day of work, of doing what I want, I can, with a clean conscience.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only have one book, one toy, one movie, and one record. What do you choose?
Great question! I will take "Just kids" by Patti Smith, a pillow in the shape of my cat, "Four Rooms" movie and uhh...music. That's the toughest. As it's an island, I'd probably say Heroin in Tahiti "Death Surf".
Do you have any projects, events, or plans upcoming in the future you’d like to share?
I'm going to keep my secret and share in a while... Keep a lookout for it.