TTTism and beyond… In conversation with Maxime Buchi
Maxime Buchi is a multi-talented artist whose creative skills and vision stretch beyond tattooing; with beginnings in graphic design and editorial work, he founded Sang Bleu magazine in the mid-2000’s. Today, Maxime Buchi has Sang Bleu tattoo studios in both London and Zurich in addition to multiple creative outlets under the Sang Bleu banner.
The Tattoo Collective are very proud to host the launch of Maxime’s newest venture, TTTism Magazine, a new print publication focusing on contemporary tattooing. This week, we caught up with Maxime to find out more about his artistic career, Sang Bleu and the concept of TTTism…
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I was born in Lausanne, Switzerland in 1978. I studied Psychology then Art and Graphic Design in my hometown. I met Filip Leu in the early 2000’s and started getting tattooed by him at 21 years old. I founded the magazine Sang Bleu in the mid 2000’s and shortly after I started an apprenticeship with Filip Leu, which lasted a couple of years. And I have been a tattooist ever since. Since approximately 2009.
How did your apprenticeship with Filip Leu come to be, and what was it like to experience the learning process under his tutelage?
Obviously I cannot say what Filip saw in me, but maybe he saw the drive of a young guy who came to his shop at 20 years old with no tattoos at all and asked him for a whole back piece and sleeves as his first tattoo. I was studying art and was having a lot of passionate and interesting discussion with Filip during the long hours tattooing my back. I once mentioned I’d love to learn to tattoo one day and he simply said, “I would teach you”, which blew my mind of course. I had never pictured myself as a tattooist, and all of a sudden a new world opened in my mind. I asked him if it had to be right then because I was still studying and he told me to take my time and get back to him when I was ready. Which I did, 4 or 5 years later. I called him one night and told him “I am ready, I can come back to Switzerland [Maxime lived in London at the time] and do it if the offer still stands.” He said yes. Apprenticing with Filip is not only apprenticing with him, it’s the whole family. And they take what they do very seriously. They do not settle for anything less than perfection in all that they do, so obviously, it was not easy every day. I was at that stage already a somewhat successful art director and going back to scrubbing floors was a humbling experience for sure! It put my ego to the test in a big way! But the amount of amazing things I was seeing and learning was so tremendous that it was worth an occasional slap on the fingers and countless overtime. I had to work on the side to pay for my living so I worked nearly full time on top of my apprenticeship. It was insane. But as soon as I touched a tattoo machine a little over a year afterwards, I knew that I was made for it. Not even the smallest doubt was possible anymore. It was the most amazing thing I had ever done. And I remember the day Filip told me that my apprenticeship was over, that I could start tattooing for money, I felt like crying. I was so exhausted mentally and physically, but I felt it was the beginning of a new chapter of my life. And it was!
How would you describe your own style?
To be honest, this is the question I fear because I am incapable of doing so. But I would say I try to apply what I know about traditional tattoo techniques and styles to subjects that are more specific to my own cultural heritage, namely continental European culture. The first time I saw Thomas Hooper and Duncan X’s work in the mid 2000’s it blew my mind. Not only it was skillfully done, but they were dealing with subjects I was identifying with personally way more than Japanese or sailor iconography. At the same time there was a wave of neo-traditional with artists like Rudy Fritsch or Steve Byrne who were introducing modern art or alchemy references. These were things I knew about and could relate to on another level. There were also people like Yann Black bringing a very graphic approach and obviously, people like Tomas Tomas who were directly connecting with Op Art and graphic design. That was what I wanted to do, a blend of all of this. Then I met Liam Sparkes with whom I shared all the same references. We were a younger generation (professionally, rather than physiologically!) than X and Hooper, and we both had an extremely similar desire to continue and expand exactly on these references. So we did. We worked, travelled, partied and many other things together for many years and progressively we started meeting new people, younger people who quickly started to identify with our own take on this approach. Some people like Guy le Tattooer and Rafel Delalande had also been doing similar work independently. It received an amazing response in Germany and Russia among others. Then it snowballed to this day, becoming in the process what is currently referred to as “Blackwork”.
Your brainchild ‘Sang Bleu’ is the forum for a number of creative projects ranging from tattooing to publishing, clothing and contemporary art. Could you please explain the roots and concept of Sang Bleu? What is the common thread that ties the various facets of Sang Bleu together?
It’s relatively simple. In the pre-Instagram mid-2000’s, and before I even became a tattooist myself, I moved to London and discovered a new world of tattoo studios such as Into You who were tattooing people from the art world, from the fashion world and developing styles that related to all the things I liked and identified with, and I was surprised because I couldn’t find any publications representing this world whereas there were plenty of London-based magazines about fashion and art. So I thought that maybe I could try and put together the equivalent for tattooing. To this day, it still is the red thread. Sang Bleu represents a community and a lifestyle rather than a single culture or profession.
Tattoo enthusiasts are highly likely to have seen your ‘@TTTism’ page on Instagram. Could you explain the idea and what TTTism aims to achieve?
TTTism started 2 years ago. I was seeing Instagram tattoo pages that were amassing ridiculous amounts of followers based on nothing. Just gathering things with at best a weak theme, but absolutely no real understanding and no real message, no real information, not even a comment saying who did what. And some of them were doing it tastefully. But I was seeing a lot of important information being lost progressively. Tattooing is an oral tradition. There are no comprehensive, complete history books, very scattered and incomplete stories and knowledge in writing. I was wondering if there was some way to bring back a little more substance to an Instagram page. I am not claiming to have created a deep online media on Instagram at this stage, although I hope it will be the case soon, but at least I tried to introduce more information in the captions, show people’s work more consistently, indicate influences, lineages etc.
We are very excited to host the launch of the first TTTism magazine. Why did you decide to move TTTism into print and what can readers expect to see in Issue 1?
I am so excited to be doing it with you! Miki Vialetto (whom I interviewed for Sang Bleu issue 1) has been a visionary and obviously a key character for the tattoo world with his conventions and continues to be. I am honoured to be part of The Tattoo Collective. But to answer your question, after a couple of years doing the ‘@TTTism’ page, and putting more of Sang Bleu online, I got to a point where I wondered; does tattooing need more magazines? Does the world still need magazines at all? And I realised I could honestly say; yes, they do. There are several reasons, but here are the two most important ones; firstly, the Internet doesn’t satiate me. And secondly, the Internet is good for continuous, immediate stimulation, but it is really bad for a longer-lasting, more curated approach to content. But after a good decade of digital media prevailing on print media, the excitement and chaos is settling. The need for media based on a longer periodicity, that allows for ritualised archival and offers a sensorial experience beyond the mere visual is arising. The first issue of the magazine is a test. I wanted it to be easy. I put together a selection of people I know well and represent as fully as possible the incredible variety of approaches and styles coexisting nowadays. If it works well, we will quickly open up and set up the magazine as a bonafide journalistic media with articles etc. I really believe that we can do something fresh and exciting that will constitute a new voice for the tattoo world!
What keeps tattooing fresh and exciting for you? Where do you feel the industry is headed?
To be honest, I have never been as excited and amazed by tattooing as I am today. The level of technical and artistic skills I see daily baffles me! If anything it’s overwhelming and makes me wanna give up! It’s like watching skateboarding today… any 14-year-old kid skates better than Tony Hawk when he was the best skater in the world in the early 90’s. But more concretely, there are still so many things I want to try and improve that I am far from being done with tattooing. I challenge myself all the time and to be honest, my clients challenge me too! I am only starting to tackle very large work and the challenge is insane. I often thing of what I saw while I worked with Filip and try to remember how he dealt with this or that… As far as where the industry is headed… it’s hard to say. Clearly, tattooing is entering the mainstream, whether we like it or not. What exactly it entails and means for it is hard to say. There is still some time until it’s fully transitioned but if you look at it this way, I honestly believe that we have passed the stage where most tattooists come from an art college background. And within a few years, most tattooists will have grown up in the 90’s and 2000’s, which means that they will have always known tattooing to be relatively socially accepted. Which means that people will be open to things such as tattoo schools etc. You see more and more people offering money to learn to tattoo and people glad to take someone’s money to “teach” them. Same as random supply or plastic tattoo machine companies that are happy to sell just anyone a tattoo machine. As much as this disgusts me, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see someone opening a “tattoo school” (I know there are some, but fortunately, not noteworthy at this stage). And to see, God forbid, states demanding diplomas to get a tattoo license. The tattoo industry will soon reach the limit of what self-regulation can handle and then who knows what will happen. It scares me sometimes to think about it, but the other way around, again, I am glad to see people like Miki who have been around for quite a while, still keen to try new formats and update his vision. It makes me hopeful that the transition in question can be lead by people who really know what tattooing is about and ensure its soul survives.
Lastly, how can clients book with you or the Sang Bleu team for The Tattoo Collective?
We will all take walk-ups, which is always fun. I don’t usually do conventions, so since I am, I might as well play the game fully. I like walk-ups. It reminds me of the early days. Which in the end is the tattooing I fell in love with.
Catch Maxime Buchi and the Sang Bleu crew February 17-19th at The Tattoo Collective, and don’t miss picking up a copy of the brand new TTTism magazine at the show. Advance Tickets are now on sale – get yours online today!