Tattoo Artist Interview – Luca Ortis
Luca Ortis specialises in Japanese style Irezumi, creating powerful large-scale works that flow seamlessly with the body. With a career spanning over a decade, Luca’s initial interest in Japanese tattooing began with the discovery of Filip Leu and the traditional Japanese masters, sparking a life-long passion for the art-form.
The Tattoo Collective are proud to exhibit work by Luca Ortis in our gallery area this March. This week, we caught up with Luca to find out more about his tattoos, paintings and creative influences…
How long have you been tattooing and how did you get started in your career?
I’ve been tattooing for about 13 years.
Like most people from my generation I got started the wrong way and eventually clawed my way into the setting of a professional shop. In my case that ended up being “New Wave” in London, where I spent 6 solid years before setting up on my own in my current studio.
Did you come from an artistic background, or were you self-taught?
I am a self-taught tattooist, but I come from an artistic family and as a single child I’ve always spent a lot of time making art.
Which artists did you begin to collect tattoos from, and who influenced you in the early days?
In the early days I guess there was only one name out there for me; Filip Leu. I never got tattooed by him but that might still happen!
After that what was really very important for me was discovering the work of Ivan Szazi. It showed me that you could do masterful traditional work as a non-Japanese. In London I’m surrounded by inspiring artists who work in the Japanese style. People like Alex Reinke and Stewart Robson who I know personally, and many others who I haven’t yet met.
What drew you to Japanese tattooing?
Initially the Swiss style, but I quickly discovered the traditional work and through books I became obsessed. Especially the work of Horihide Yokosuka, Huriuno, Horibun and early Horiyoshi III.
In any case, my interest in travel and far-flung places started very early on. Maybe because I was born in a small place. The alternative was always captivating for me and Japan ticked a lot of those boxes.
Where do you draw influence from outside of the tattoo world? Which artists or art movements inspire you?
I used to make sculpture and I was really into the contemporary art world. At that point I was very interested in Arte Povera and people like Anselm Kiefer. I still love that work, and even if it’s not directly related to tattooing, it inspired me because of how it blurred the lines between craft and art and, in Kiefer’s case, because of how hard he seems to work. Closer to home I would say that I get a lot of inspiration out of Ukiyo-E. Hokusai and Kuniyoshi of course, but my favourite style is the more stylised look of people like Kunisada and Kunichika. I love the process of abstraction and simplifying in both tattoo and art. I’m really inspired by any craft where you can see attention to detail.
I have a few clients who are high-end chefs and I’m always blown away by their level of commitment. I think it’s a profession that has parallels with tattooing.
You mostly work on large scale Horimono style tattoos; what does the design process usually entail? Do you often paint or produce studies?
Unless I’m tattooing a creature I tattoo very regularly, I look through books and online for reference. Then I draw a sketch to fit the body. I try and keep it looking close to the reference but also so that the lines and the feel of it looks like my hand was involved. Now I try and keep it loose, but I used to sketch until everything was really perfect and resolved. Now I just use the sketch as reference to freehand with markers on the skin. I love that part of the process.
It’s exciting and a bit stressful but it’s a challenge and the end result is so different from when I used stencils. Not better or worse but different in a way I like. I paint a lot more these days. Usually things I want to tattoo but sometimes it’s the other way round and I start with a sketch for a tattoo I’m working on and then it turns into a finished painting.
Your career has allowed you to travel extensively around the world, including guest spots across Europe and Japan; how have your travels enriched your tattooing?
Travel enriches everything. It’s the best thing in the world for me and it’s what the end game always was. I started tattooing thanks to traveling and chance encounters and it will always be something central to my life.
I’ve been lucky that I’ve been able to travel and work with many inspiring people. Ichi Hatano in Tokyo, Pino and Marjana Cafaro in Germany, Johan Svan and Hans Schroeder in Sweden and Mauro Tampieri and Arianna Settembrino in Italy. I learned a lot from these people and most importantly I had a great time hanging out.
Can you share a little about the work you will be exhibiting at The Tattoo Collective?
The pieces I’m exhibiting are watercolours; essentially flash for Japanese pieces. They are what I hang on the walls of the studio to inspire my clients to get more large-scale work.
In many ways I don’t consider myself a painter and I really need the context of tattooing to actually produce anything on paper, but when I am painting I really love the process, and the slow learning of a new technique. It’s also been invaluable in getting a real sense of what I want my tattooing to look like.
Do you have any upcoming projects or news to share with our readers?
I’m guesting with my friends at Rain City in Manchester and Insider in Edinburgh and will be working in Italy. There’s an exciting project in the pipeline but it’s still a little too early to let the cat out of the bag!
Can visitors purchase prints at the convention, and how can they book in with you?
There’s going to be prints available of all the paintings that are exhibited. These are half size so A2.
I always like to do smaller pieces at conventions, so if people want a one off piece they can email through my site www.lucaortis.com or they can just swing by at the show and pick something I’ve already drawn.