Tzenio Pirigents

Artists - Studios - Issue 15

Tzenio Pirigents spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his multifaceted nature as a “body modifier” and his intention to offer happiness through the various body modifications he performs. He analyzed the difficulties he faced when he first started tattooing, the misunderstood nature of tattoo and the other body modification forms as well as the “addiction” they may entail. 

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

You began with body piercing and then moved on to tattooing. How did that happen?

I started body piercing in 2001 and tattooing in 2004. I always liked tattoos and I was also drawing. I had never dared to at first and there was also no one to help me get into tattoo. After that, I just dared to do it. I called Sakis Keramaris, told him I wanted a tattoo machine, I went to Thessaloniki to pick it up and I started. So, in a way, Sakis helped, because when I was looking for a tattoo machine, no one else was willing to give me one.

How did you learn to tattoo?

By visiting many tattoo conventions. I’d make a list of questions and go to the festivals and get answers. I’d sit for hours next to an artist and answer my questions by looking at him work.  

Do you think that the fact that there was no experienced tattooist to help you regarding the learning part may have delayed your first steps?

Yes, a lot. I had no one to answer my questions. I’d try to solve them on my own. I knew many known people in the scene but they all sent me away with stupid excuses whenever I’d approach them.

How did you get into body piercing?

I began completely on my own. While studying to be an Electronic Networks Technician, I worked in a piercing studio. There was a lot of anatomy, a lot of reading and medical study. I was doing the degree mainly to please my parents, since I already knew I wanted to get into body piercing and eventually tattooing. It’s just that things then were not what they are now, when this profession is more acceptable. 

I like all aspects of body modification. Tattoos, piercings, plastic surgery, body building and all the various tribal rituals are considered body modifications. I like intervening on the human body in a way chosen by the client. 
My dream was to become a surgeon. That was initially impossible, since I never studied enough. Then I realized that, in any case, I wouldn’t be able to be a surgeon, because Medical School has to do with curing patients. I prefer doing something that offers immediate joy to someone and not trying to offer him joy by removing a problem.

Body modification has existed as long as man has. However its social acceptance is ambiguous.  

Body modification has of course existed since ancient times. Unfortunately, most people believe that it was done between slaves or prisoners. On the contrary, in many societies and the general majority, it was something the nobles did. For example, Romans had nipple piercings which was something to indicating valour. On the other hand, the Pharaohs’ daughters did nose piercings. The body parts used for the lower classes were different so there could be a division. I mean, if the queen had a nose and belly button piercing, her slaves may have had ear piercings. Basically, the nobles tried to differentiate themselves from the rest through various forms of body modification. 

Do you see yourself more as a tattoo artist, a body piercer or a body modifier?

I am a body modifier and I like all forms of body modification equally. It’s just that the tattoo is more in demand these days so I do more tattooing. As a professional, I focus on what people want.

What forms of body modification do you do?

I do tattoo, body piercing, branding which is done with diathermy and is basically like a burn, scarification which is done in various ways like with a scalpel and a tattoo machine, suspension which is also called hanging by many, implants which are either 3D and made with Teflon, or silicon, or microdermal, which are very fashionable, as well as tongue splitting. I generally do anything to do with the human body. I even do stitches for friends (laughs).

In any case, whichever form of body piercing I do, before I do it for the client, I have already done it to myself. I have sampled everything, except tongue splitting. I want to have my own views, because I believe that if you haven’t tried what you are “selling”, then you can’t have an opinion. I mean, I couldn’t tell this girl here if a tattoo hurts or not unless I had one myself. 

How would you describe your tattoo style?

I really like realistic, but I don’t stick to one particular tattoo style. I like all styles. I will never say “I don’t do that tattoo style or I don’t like that piece”. I don’t judge what the client asks for. I just respect it. It not my business if at that moment the client wants his girlfriend’s name. I believe that he knows what he is doing and he has also accepted the chance that he might regret it later on. 

Do you believe that everyone getting tattoos nowadays know what they are doing?

I believe that life is short and that its best if we live with spontaneity and do what we want, however momentary that may prove to be. It will either be wrong or right.  We have to take risks in our life and be prepared to support our choices and accept the consequences. That’s why I am not against face tattoos. I am only against health issues and things to do with the duration of a tattoo. I mean, if someone ask me for a design which I know will not be proportionally correct and will look like crap in a few years, then I will prevent them from doing it. I want to give the person something that will last a lifetime and be done correctly. Whether he should do it or not is his issue. As far as the technical aspect goes, I ought to give him something “perfect”. From that point on everything else is up to him.

How do you see tattoo in Greece right now?

I believe it is blooming and going through its best time artistically. There used to be so many inhibitions. Now people are more “free” and have expelled the “who will hire me” and “what will people think” attitude. I like what is happening and I also want and believe it will go higher. As far as the technical part goes, the American or Europeans don’t have anything more than us anymore. 

Where do you think the Greek scene will be in five years?

I believe that we will have moved on from the tattoo to other forms of body modification, which is already happening in many other countries. We will begin moving into the extremes. For example, those who are full of tattoos will begin dyeing their sleeves black, getting scarification or branding on top of their existing tattoos, or getting implants. That is evolution. 

Why do you think people will move on to more extreme body modifications?

It’s like moving to the next level or winning a medal. When you get one tattoo, you want a second one and a third one and at some point you start getting covered with them and then you say, ok I need to fix this one, re-colour that one etc. 
So we are talking about an “addiction”?

It all comes down to addiction and getting to know your body. That’s how I see body modification. Basically you get rid of the taboo of something “simpler” and people go to the more extremes. When you get rid of the taboo of the extreme, you go onto even more extreme. In any case, people in our country are not acquainted with extreme body modification. For example, my arm implants seem alien.

What leads people to “intervene” on the bodies in so many different ways? What do you think?

I believe that, in many cases, it is for renewal. To see yourself evolve and feel beautiful. I accept anything that will make you happy. 

Doesn’t the type of happiness that comes from body modification have to do mainly with beautification?

There are two cases, those who do it for beautification and those who do it for cultural reasons. A good example is Traditional Japanese tattooing which is done by members of the Yakuza, and also by Westerners. The designs in both cases are different. With regards to beautification, a lot of people come here to get scars covered up with tattoos. Even the eyeball tattoo, was created for medical reasons. It was done on blind people who didn’t have pupils, so as to reduce the eye’s sensitivity to the sun, as well as for aesthetic reasons. The eyeball tattoo is done via colour injection and not with a tattoo machine. I am not against it. I just have my reservations, because we do not know yet if it will cause future health problems. 

When it comes to tattoos, do you think there are no health issues?

“Contemporary” tattoo has existed for many years and the inks are certified for their safety. Personally, I have asked the companies I get my inks from to send me certifications. There is of course a third factor also… If the mailman leaves the inks in the sun for example, then they are in danger of being ruined just like it is with bottles of water. It’s not the water’s fault.

Is there a tattoo artist you admire? 

Bob Tyrrell is a big influence. I really like him as a person and as an artist. I respect the fact that he began tattooing rather late and he still got very far. He is a very modest and “open” person and I have attended some of his seminars, which were amazing. He really wants to pass his knowledge on. 

Which is the “right” way to professionally approach tattooing in your opinion?

There is no right or wrong way. Just love what you do. If you do, then it will be right. If you don’t, time will tell. There are people who are into tattooing simply to make ends meet and others who don’t care about money but only about the tattoo. 

And others who are interested in both…

Yes. In any case though, the money comes afterwards. First you go for the artistry. I have always been interested in doing tattoos and not in making money. If I was interested in money, I would have opened a franchise! On the contrary, I am interested in being here, with good colleagues, doing tattoos and having a great time. I see young kids who really try and learn how to tattoo and other who merely want to do it, just enough so they can say I make 50 euros a day, an amount they wouldn’t get in any job…

Other than that, when we started, there weren’t so many companies selling tattoo machines, needles etc. Now everything is available. We all made mistakes when we first begun tattooing, and whoever says he hasn’t is lying. It is about which mistake you make. It’s something else doing as your first tattoo an entire backpiece and totally different doping something small. You have to respect your client.

Are tattoo artist today’s rockstars?

Rockstars are musicians. We are artists. Tattoo is a lifestyle, not rock n’ roll. I believe that every person should be modest, correct and offer his client what he wants. The client is basically entrusting you with his body and you have to be devoted to giving him the prefect result. There has to be respect between the artist and the client and the artist should not think himself above the client. I believe that is a phenomenon found mostly in younger tattooists. The older guys have lived the tattoo, have made the tattoo and have been troubled by the tattoo. They are who they are and have nothing to prove. The younger guys have been handed something ready-made and just “nick” bits from here and there and create their own style. There are hardly any new artists producing something entirely their own. The older tattooists are the ones, who dared and did something special. In a time when American Old School ruled, they created realistic, added colour and added the “grotesque” aspects. I mean, some guys passed their art onto the tattoo.

In the long run, the value of our work is proven on skin. The tattoo is something simple; it is a nice moment you have with your client and your client with you, you imprint your art onto him, he receives your art, end of story. 

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Dildo Tattoo Studio.

Photographs courtesy of Dildo Tattoo Studio.

"Suspension is very misunderstood. It doesn’t hurt like everybody thinks. I did think too in the beginning. Suspension has a ritualistic aspect, during which you make peace with your body and see until where you can go. I don’t think it is commercially viable and that’s why I don’t advertise it much. Once your feet leave the ground, the pain disappears. It’s a very weird feeling… A nirvana of sorts… I can’t explain it any other way".