Nikos Katsoulis

Artists - Studios - Issue 17

Nikos Katsoulis is undoubtedly one of the first Greeks who were involved with tattooing, in the '80s in particular. Thirty years after the start, he continues to do what he loves and knows how to do well, in fact very well. He spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine giving an extremely rich interview. Among other things, he referred to how was tattoo in the "old days", what caused his evolution as a tattooer, the rapid progress of the artistry in tattooing nowadays, the people who made a passing from Nico Tattoo all these years, his return to Alexandroupolis, the institution of tattoo conventions, as well as some stories from the past that will never be forgotten.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

Two years ago, you moved back to Alexandroupoli. What led you to this decision?

That was the plan I had in my mind from the beginning. Meaning, I started in Alexandroupoli and left the city relatively old- around thirty- to check the possibilities I had, and see how I would make the most out of them in a bigger city. However, my reasoning has been always to return here. That is why, during the twenty years I was in Thessaloniki, I kept my studio here; so that I would be able to come back. Ι never abandoned it. 

Is the space that houses the studio the same one you initially had or has it changed?

When I started in Alexandroupoli thirty years ago the studio was according to the standards of the time. During all this period of going back and forth, we didn’t really pay much attention to the space, so now that I am back here permanently this space was no longer good for me. So I moved my studio and fashioned my space to be exactly as I wanted in order for me to be able to draw, and to host more people.

Do you work alone in the studio at this moment or do you have other people working there as well?

At first I was on my own.  Now I have a kid who is apprenticing.

So, you have apprentices again...

Ok, I had said I will never do it again…

What changed?

There is always the sentimental factor, when you have a nice kid approaching you. Truth be told, there are kids approaching you for that on a daily basis. You open up your facebook and every single week there would be someone asking you to learn with you or offering you money etc. You don’t do it. It’s just that here the rhythms are so intense that you have to have someone in the studio, besides yourself. And if a nice kid that inspires you approaches you, then it’s fine.

So, you are up for it again?

Same o’ same o’.

This is the way it goes, people do not really change.

No, they don’t (laughs).

Even though you currently reside in a “calmer” environment compared to Thessaloniki, you mentioned the other day that you still don’t feel relaxed. What exactly do you mean?

If you care too much for your clients you never calm down. Of course in tattoo, you know how it goes, the clients may be called clients but in fact they are not. They are these people you maintain long relations with, and some of them may end up becoming your friends. This is what forces you to be in tattooing all day long. My point was to get away a little bit from this entire thing. I left Thessaloniki because I got older. Ok, when you are getting older things are different, you get tired. When you make your own designs, you want to draw and that requires a lot of time. When friends, acquaintances and old clients are coming over and ask things from you and you have to service them, you also feel that you have too many things to do, so, essentially, nothing really changes. What has definitely changed is the workload; you shouldn’t forget that in Nico Tattoo for ten-fifteen years there were twenty five to thirty people employed there, and I was the one responsible for arranging everything so I wanted to escape that as well.

Did you finally manage to escape that part?

Yes, it’s done. I don’t deal with all these studios. I gradually lost tattoo’s vibe because all I did was being concerned with the studios, their needs and the problems the guys had. It started off as a business and turned into this monster I just couldn’t be bothered with.

You have to choose whether you are going to be a businessman, to put it that way, because it was never my dream to own a business, or a tattooer. The last few years I am occupied with painting a lot. I make these dragons, I tried to have a specific style and work on it and this is what interests me right now. You can’t do both, so at some pint I had to choose. My choice was to get back to calmness. Anyway, I am forty eight years old now, so my limits are much lower. Plus I have my family; I have two kids so I had to spend time with them as well. Here in Alexandropoli, the kids definitely have a nicer time. The quality of life is better.

Let’s go back to the old days. How did you first get in touch with tattoo and tattooing? What was the situation back then?

First of all don’t forget I lived in Alexandroupoli. Not in Athens or Thessaloniki so if things were generally hard then, in Alexandroupoli things were ten times harder. There was no contact with tattoo. In 1985 there was no internet, no cable TV, no credit cards; travelling by plane was very expensive and contacts abroad were minimal. Tattoo was something completely subversive. Apart from Jimmy in Athens, there were only three or four people in the whole of Greece tattooing. 99% of them came from the punk scene. There were Susanna Athens, Panther in Thessaloniki, me in Alexandroupoli, and a couple of other people here and there. That was it and we basically knew each other through the punk scene.

There was a thirst for being different and as a consequence there was eccentricity. Tattoo was just something we did to stand out from everyone else. The only people who had tattoos back then were punkers and people from prison. The situation had nothing to do with how things are today at all. Even we, we couldn’t imagine that tattoo will reach the point it has nowadays. There was no way you could imagine that. I am not being critical, on the one hand it is very good what is happening now. It’s just that when something gets so big it has both pros and cons.

How did you start tattooing back in the day?

You traditionally started with needles, by hand, with tweezers with threads wrapped in the needle for stitching, with finer threads for beads, some crazy stuff. Of course, there were no inks back then so we used a rapidograph. In the beginning, everyone gave tattoos by hand or using needles. Afterwards, whoever was “smarter” made a machine with a pen and with the needle up and down. That guy “forced” everybody else to stop and then became the official tattooer of his area.

This is how I started giving tattoos. Back then, there were no tattoo pictures to draw your themes from. Therefore, your thematic was basically drawn from album covers. That was your only choice in order to find an image. There was not even any foreign press in Alexandroupoli, only in Thessaloniki in Molhos bookstore. Imagine that; I did the whole trip to Thessaloniki just to go to Molhos to get an issue of Easy Rider magazine. Easy Rider was the only magazine that had pictures of people with tattoos, bikers that is. There was a comic strip there showing this guy carrying a chick on his motorbike and you could see the tattoo machine that wasn’t a motοr but was more like the alarm buttons used in old lifts. That button functioned with two spools just like the tattoo machine. The tattoo machines we have now are like two magnets and on top of them a lamina is going up and down. That’s how tattoo machine functions but in miniature version. So the comic strip made me realise that tattoo machines had the same magnets as those buttons. So I “ripped” these buttons from a lift, which I actually couldn’t use at all as they were 220 volts and very big. Then I started experimenting with door handles, motorcycles’ magnets, etc. I went to garages and asked them to wrap me some magnets and they laughed at me saying, “what is he talking about, he wants them for tattooing’”!

Eventually, I made my own tattoo machines and everybody in my group stopped giving tattoos because since I had a machine I tattooed better than them. Then everyone else from the nearby cities of Komotini and Xanthi also stopped, and from there the whole thing just took off.

For many years I operated with all the things I came up with. Because, either way, there was no contact with abroad so as to buy what was required. Even when tattoo magazines started to show up -and of course again you had to go to Athens or Thessaloniki to get them- and I checked that there were some companies making and selling motors. There were one or two in the whole world, both in the States but still you couldn’t buy from them.

Why was that?

Because you didn’t have a credit card and you weren’t thirty or forty years old. You were a teenager and all these transactions with America were unheard of in Greece, in that age. You had to have some sort of declared exchange from your father and a thousand more things that happened much later because you couldn’t do otherwise. In 1990 a friend of mine was studying in England and he sent me a motor for the first time along with proper colours, because up until then all the colours we used were also impromptu. We boiled inks, trees, plants; we boiled everything you can possibly imagine to get the notorious phytochrome (ed. colour that supposingly came from plants)! We even boiled some beetroots!

And did it work?

No, it didn’t, nothing did. The things I had put on me…. You can’t imagine how many marks I have from various staff, even from inks used in typing t-shirts!

In 1990, the tattoo scene was still fairly small and inaccessible. How did your friend manage to get you a tattoo machine and inks?

He just happened to know someone; otherwise he wouldn’t be able to get them. Indeed, tattoo society was pretty close in the 80’s and 90’s, even abroad. At some point we sent some people who were going to Holland over to Hanky Panky to ask where they can get machines and they sent the “dog” to bite them. There were many back then who didn’t want new people learning or asking them many questions because they thought you will steal their job.

How did things evolve after that?

Things started to move on and I now had the big advantage of the army. I had set up a studio -which of course was illegal since things like that didn’t exist then- and I had a sign outside and it was right at the point soldiers were passing on their way down. It was a coincidence that helped me a lot nevertheless, as there were almost 500 soldiers passing in front of the shop every single day on their way to the camps, since Alexandroupoli then had a lot of army. It was the first time that people were liberated from their mums so there was tattoo frenzy. Picture this: in 1995 in Alexandroupoli I gave ten to fifteen tattoos per day. This made me progress fast, learning and dealing a lot with the technical part because all these first years and until myspace and facebook made their appearance, tattoo was all about the technical part as we still did not have any contact whatsoever with the artistic part. I mean that if you wanted to check out what was happening in the tattoo world then, you had to spend twelve euros to get, for example, a magazine by Vialetto and see a good tattoo. On the other side, on the internet, you had to know who to look for, which was hard. Only those of us who were into it, meaning going to conventions abroad as visitors, not participating, discovered some staff and then searched for them on the internet. The whole explosion, change and artistry came through myspace and facebook, where you could see, copy, learn and be taught. We are talking about the art. Until then it was purely technique. In Greece, whoever did well technically was subsequently a good tattooer.

Artistry in your opinion then came along with the social media?

Artistry didn’t even exist. I don’t think that things outside Greece were any different either. In 1994 I was in Bologna, where one of the biggest and most widespread festivals in Europe was taking place, there you could see the same level; don’t think that there was much of a difference. There were very few people that stood out, like Filip Leu who is unique, Claus Fuhrmann and some other artists from the greater area around Switzerland, North Italy, Austria, Holland and France.

I think that in Greece the shift in having many people getting tattoos took place through cable TV. That was when Greek people saw something else for the first time. Until then they hadn’t seen anything else, they weren’t informed from any other sources apart from the TV.  The TV was just the two national channels.

Ever since we saw Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns and Roses with visible tattoos on MTV and our mothers saw them too, the whole tattoo thing started slowly to change. Guns and Roses had tattoos all over their arms and most people saw tattoos for the first time in their lives. Imagine that what was considered then as a top tattoo was anything that had to do with Guns and Roses. Not because it was fashionable; people just didn’t have any other images of it. They said, “what kind of tattoo should we do? The one with the gun and the little flowers”. And change started from there. All of a sudden, “normal” city people started getting tattoos. 

So my work was constantly on the rise, because all this big clientele I had was soldiers from all over Greece; they were always different ones as they would leave after six to eight months and new ones would come. Then they all left and returned to their hometowns. This fact made me well known all over Greece, because there were tattoos made in Alexandroupoli in various places. When the first tattoo convention in Athens took place, organised by Billy from Medusa Tattoo -I think that we first met there, when you got up on stage with a tattoo made by Vasso, you see, the whole story is written here…- I was on the entrance door and the bouncer told me “do you remember me? I was a soldier in Alexandroupoli”. I went to the bar to have a glass of water and the barman told me “you taught me how to tattoo, you made me love tattoo, I first met you in Alexandroupoli”. I was in shock because there were too many people who were into tattoo as well as many tattooers who first came by the studio in Alexandroupoli as soldiers. 

I took the decision to go to Thessaloniki around 1996-7. From that point onwards it’s a whole different story… Then I opened up Nico Tatoo.

How did you come up with the name Nico Tattoo?

It was Nicos or tattoo by Nick, very lame. To be honest, I don’t even remember why…

So you went and opened up a tattoo shop in the centre of Thessaloniki?

In the beginning, there weren’t any money. I began in a small basement, having in mind to get out eventually in Navarinou Street, which was Thessalonikis’ cult area. Furthermore, since 1995 in Alexandroupoli, I had this kid with me, called Thomas. He has been with me many years, ever since 1995 when he was a young kid who wanted to learn how to tattoo. So I had him with me. We continued because he happened to study in Thessaloniki. He was one of my first apprentices and I love him very much.

Was he the first one?

Yes. And then this chapter began. We were then transferred to a bigger studio because our work had really taken off and that was when the studio began to transform into something more, how to put it, like a “school”. I then started to get more people who wanted to learn how to tattoo and the whole thing automatically just grew, really fast, was uncontrolled, because too many people were coming over, it was madness. In 1999 we moved to an even bigger space and towards the end of 1999 I took Kostas Tzikalagias. Since 1995 my wife Peggy was involved body piercing and soon she started representing Wildcat in Greece. Later in 2001 when our first kid came, she taught Vasilis, who then became responsible of  body piercing and later on along with Stefanos

So, in early 2000 Nico Tattoo started developing as a team with the members of which I shared my knowledge. My knowledge had clearly to do with my experience in tattooing. Meaning, I had really advanced the technical part, especially considering the standards of the time.

How did you develop that? Thanks to long hours of practice?

Just because all these first ten years you didn’t have the chance to concern yourself with the artistry, only to a small extent, there was the occupation with technique. How you will manage to do the shadows, which is pretty easy today, because you can go and see how they are made and get yourself a ready-made magnum, while back then you had to understand all that, you had to invent them and then practice them in action. What I mean is, that whenever I go to a convention now, I can hear the machines working and I know instantly who has worked with me in the past. You know what I mean.

Every one of us can feel good about his life achievements. I feel good about that; the fact that this studio “produced” ten-fifteen persons that came to be some of the best tattooers in Greece and this is something I’m proud of. Nowadays, the way things turned out to be, it’s good for a studio to teach you both painting and technique, if you are an apprentice. For the standards of that period though, it was all about the technique and how a studio could bring you out to the world. Because you were the one who introduced the tattooer to the world. Today every tattooer introduces himself to the world through the internet. Back then, people were coming to a studio because that was what they recognized and it was your job to show him how to behave, how to react and how to operate.

What is your opinion now about the apprenticeship part of tattoo, after all these years and all of your personal experiences?

I have realised that nowadays the apprentice is happening in two different contexts. Either someone pays to learn, so you then have a commercial relationship or you can learn in the context of a strictly friendly relationship. As I already explained to you before, now, as soon as you start getting involved with tattooing you have an immediate relationship with the world. The world is yours. End of it. You don’t depend on anyone.

No matter what, I think that the apprenticeship part definitely offers more. There are many things one doesn’t know and the studio does. Surely, it’s better for a kid to apprentice with people that have the knowledge and not just someone who owns a studio. Maybe the other person has ten ways and secrets you will never learn. Not crazy tricks, just some things that will make you evolve faster. Plus, apart from the technique, you have a lot to gain in terms of the painting part. Right now, there are many studios with amazing artists so you can benefit a lot from them artistically.

Even if you come from the School of Fine Arts?

What does that have to do with it? The School of Fine arts and tattoo are far too apart. Even this gap between then can be conferred by someone who knows. I don’t necessarily mean myself.

How would you characterise the life of a professional tattoo artist?

Ι think it depends on everyone’s mentality. It has nothing to do with tattoos or anything else. There are people who are satisfied with having nothing and just being tattooers. There are others who are discontent, no matter what. It’s definitely an amazing job, no doubt about that. A “job” anyway. Especially for us, it was never like a proper job and I don’t think that it is conceived as a job by anyone who does it, including the new kids. You do what you love and you have earnings from everything. Whether these are financial or social, it’s perfect. All of us who are involved with tattooing are very lucky. Of course, undoubtedly, you are influenced by the competition when the professional side gets in the way, meaning that when one of your clients gets a tattoo from someone else you will be upset, not because you lost money but because of your personal interference in what you do.

You mean because your client preferred another tattooer?

Yes. Although it has never bothered me if he goes to someone better or at least someone I consider as being better. It gets to me when I’m trying to do something well and then I see the client going to God knows where to do God knows what. I send a lot of people to fellow tattooers. For instance, now that I am here in Alexandroupoli, they ask me for things that can’t be done, outside my own limits, and I believe that this tattoo should be made by Dr. Pepper or some other tattooers in Athens for example. And I say to him “if you want something like that you should go to Athens’”. Because, mate, this is where you will get something that is better and in the style you want. 

Moreover, a big problem right now in tattooing for me is that everybody has access to the internet and good for them; one can find a masterpiece made by an A class tattooer in Germany or Sweden, he can save it on his mobile and then he can go to his neighbourhood or his village tattoo shop and asks for the exact same sleeve. Man, you just can’t get the same sleeve, with the same quality. It’s just impossible! And the bad thing is that they actually do them and the differences are huge and then they carry a ‘drama’ on them.

I think the ideal is to find a style, practice, do it well and then say “I do specifically that”.

Has tattoo been more a source of joy or sorrow for you?

Of course it has offered me more joyful moments. I already told you, we are very lucky, we do what we like and we have everything, the earnings you ought to have, you have them exceedingly. Tattoo is very important to me because it has helped and is still helping a big part of the youth population to express itself. Concerning painting, in the past you had nothing to do jobwise and then you became a public officer. Now there is another choice available, you can draw if you like drawing and you can open a studio, earn money, live in dignity and have everything going fine for you.

Tattoo artist or tattooer?

Look, me, because of my age and the years I’ve been around in the tattoo world, I am a tattooer. Now, if we think about it, normally, you are both: a tattooer and a tattoo artist. One aspect of tattoo is art. Performance and final result depend on technique. The way things are progressing with the use of motors, it is likely that after ten- twenty years it will be only art because you will possibly take in your hands a motor that will “write” with such a precision and you will produce art. The result of that will be that the technical part won’t be that important anymore. Either way, the new machines were of great help to the new artists because you no longer have to be both the technician and the craftsman (arranging the machines, changing magnets, finding thicker needles and many more). Now you just put this thing on.

Therefore, all this progress, regarding the tattoo supplies has facilitated the process when it comes to the technical part so that one can focus on artistry and evolve the artistic part?

Before, to give you an idea, it was like you had a destroyer in your hands. You bought a machine from a company that was running with, let’s say, thousands of holes per second. You could only do damage with that. You had to make this machine yours; you had to have the knowledge.

Either way, tattooing demands devotion. Do you think you have devoted your life to it? And how do you combine that with your family?

Whether you like it or not, you have to devote yourself to it. Let’s not fool ourselves. I’ve been around thirty years. I had more than thirty people in and out of the studio. I don’t know anyone who isn’t devoted. You are going to devote yourself to it and your evolution will be based on how much devotion you will show. You love it, you adore it and it’s a way of life.
You wake up and go to sleep with it. If you are occupied with the next day’s tattoo, then you will draw all night long, spend the next day tattooing; unfortunately, you don’t get to spend much time with your family. That’s the truth. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to go the following day and just do five basic tattoos with flowers and flying butterflies, then it’s ok, you have time for your family and for everything else you want. But if you want to do something remarkable and unique that requires two days of drawing then you don’t have a single day to yourself.

My family has been supportive and stood by me and I thank them for that.

What gives you strength and inspiration to continue after thirty years in the tattoo world?

You receive the rewards only when you feel that you did something good. You don’t receive it from other people, from what they will say. You can’t expect someone to praise you to feel good. Of course, it’s nice when this happens, but it’s nothing like the reward you will feel for yourself if you do better than the previous time and if you move one step forward. I think that this is the most important thing. I am very strict with the evaluation of my work.

Tell me about your tattoo style.

My tattoo style is more Japanese. The truth is I am mostly concerned with dragons and the biggest part of my work is the dragons. Dragons have a devoted fan base. This is my impression. I didn’t do it because of that but I began to like that as well. I forgot to tell you that one of the reasons I can’t relax in Alexandroupoli is that the dragons have been “chasing” me.

What do you mean?

60 to 70% of my clientele down here, which I can’t avoid in order to relax, come from various parts of Greece and they all want dragons. I wanted to achieve that and I did. On the other hand, each dragon has to be different than the previous one, and that takes up a lot of time. Sometimes I spend three days drawing the dragon, sometimes it may take me a week and other times it may take me a few hours.

What was the thing that attracted you more to dragons?

I can’t find the words to explain it. For many years, whenever I sat down to draw, I was always drawing that. I don’t know why I liked it so much. I was always fascinated by the dragons’ dynamic in tattoo. For instance, I don’t enjoy a painting depicting a dragon as much as I enjoy a tattoo with a dragon.

I also like the dragon’s relationship with the body. It fills up a surface right from the beginning and that is very important in tattooing; filling up a space with one theme and not adding small details here and there and turn it into a “circus”.

When did you start moving towards Japanese? Has Filip Leu been an influence?

First of all, what made me a big impression the old times was certainly Filip Leu’s work that stood out; if it stands out today, twenty years ago he was the letter A and all the rest were the letter Z. Just like Claus Fuhrmann who also did something different.
Through Filip Leu’s work I realised that the Japanese tattoo is the ideal one for the body. He knew how to isolate all the negative elements and “cut” the body in the proper way. I certainly liked his dragons more than anybody else’s, so it probably began from there…

What do you think of the Greek tattoo scene?

The Greek scene is where it should be. There are many good tattooers as there are really good tattooers all over the world.

What is your opinion on the institution of tattoo conventions?

From the old days, that was our celebration, we went there, had a good time, advertising our work, getting to know each other, and everything was super cool. I think that the prizes are ruining the conventions and I don’t have a problem with the prizes and our studio always won many prizes. I just don’t like all the attention they receive. They receive way too much attention.

I remember in one of the first festivals there was an air-condition with no ventilation and we were all awfully sweating and me, Savvas and the rest we were there giving tattoos, and  we all had turbans in our heads and our sweat was running on the floor… 

Back then, tattoo conventions were very important to everyone because there was no information available. Today-let’s not fool ourselves- they don’t have the same popularity as before. The people themselves make it evident that they no longer go to see something they wouldn’t otherwise see. He sees tattoos all day long on the internet, all of his friends have tattoos, you see people you don’t know and half of the photos that will appear on facebook will again be with a tattoo by a friend, tattoo is everywhere now. So it has definitely lost its value in the sense of “let’s go to see the tattooers, let’s go to check out their work”. You can now see their work on the internet. I think this started in the first place to get to know each other, like it was done in the past. The convention in the past was “tighter”, there was a better relationship, we knew each other, we could all go out for dinner afterwards. You didn’t have other connections. We waited the convention in order to chat with tattooers from all over Greece.

What people should understand is that conventions are private businesses. The take place anywhere, from anyone and the competitions bear no importance. What bothers me in the last competitions is the selection of the judges. You make a judge the dude that was learning in my studio and now opened a tattoo shop thirty meters away, and pretends not knowing me, to judge my tattoo or the other way around. That’s why I liked that the judges were tattooists from abroad in the last convention I went in Thessaloniki. This is fair.

What do you think about tattoo’s commercialisation nowadays?

“Commercialisation” always existed since you are doing tattoos and you get paid. Otherwise, you do it for free. We used to give tattoos for free in the past. We drank ouzo and then we did them. We were buying each other drinks and did the tattoo. We didn’t exchange eggs and that sort of stuff -let me bring you a hen from my village- but it was kind of like that. We just said that there are some negative aspects as well, as I said before, like people seeing it very superficially and getting tattoos without thinking about it seriously. That is valid for the tattooer as well because the field has “opened up” too much…

And that you can’t give the other person, something that you can’t do correctly.

To tell you the truth, we are a bit competitive here in Greece. There is some bad competition. I have noticed that there are occasions when someone prefers to do something he is not capable of doing, rather than sending the client to someone else. Even if he does it for free. He will charge a very low price, just to avoid losing the client to someone else. This is not right. 

Is there something you would advise a young kid who wants to take up tattooing?

They have to know how to draw and practice in painting. That’s it. We don’t have the same standards in tattoo anymore; in the past you would progress no matter what.

As we already said, the evolution is the art. Tattoo is art. When a client comes and he is fully informed and he brings you this amazing tattoo from the internet and he goes into every shop and asks for this amazing tattoo, how are you supposed to do it if you don’t know how to draw? All these people who do flowers, hearts and the like, will vanish. When the new generation along with the next two or three generations will see all those with their small, average tattoos, with their bellies sticking out, the vulgar barwomen, the bearded guys with their muscles and their huge bellies and those awful green tattoos - because it all ends there. The next generations will be disgusted by this and they will associate that with the older generation, the older people. This mimicry and this huge explosion will later slow down. And what will remain will be only those few people who tattoo and who are special and weird and they definitely want to make art. This is what I think. It’s like the swimsuit, the shorts. When we were kids we used to wear those tight speedo type shorts and the old men wore boxer shorts. If someone, between the age of fifteen and forty, wore boxer shorts, the whole beach will turn its head. Now it’s the opposite! Whoever wears speedo is an old man.

Do you think that a tattooer “ought” to be fully covered with tattoos?

I used to think that yes, he has to be covered with tattoos, because I associate it too much with the sentimental aspect. Since you are doing tattoos and you love it, then you should have as well. But I don’t think I see it like this now, I think that art has clearly taken up a big role, just like we discussed before. But no, I think that he should have many tattoos (laughs).

Would you like to share with us a story from the old days? One that is stuck in your memory?

I remember I wanted to learn how to tattoo and this magazine had a reference to this school in England, in Tamworth. My dream was to save some money- I was in a very bad financial situation- and go to Tamworth. I didn’t speak English. I was saving money and I had this friend I told you before who was studying in the UK in 1990, so he made the contact and I went there. So we are going up there together because he was my translator. We arrive at Tamworth at night and I’m trying to find the teacher’s address. We search the streets and when we finally find the shop it turns out the guy had a tattoo shop that was worse than the one I had in Alexandroupoli.

In 1995 I travelled to Holland to go find Hanky Panky who was then my idol in order to get a tattoo by him. I go in and there is this guy who is tattooing a private part of the body and he is saying stuff to us, quite aggressively… the old school, you know. But he is the one who taught the technique in half the planet. I had Harley’s logo tattooed on my arm and I asked him what he would give me. He started laughing and he answered me, “I will make a bull and this will be his turd” (laughs). He was two meters high, so everyone laughed with his joke. In the end he tattooed me an Indian with a very large necklace. Years after, when I another tattooist covered it up, he said to me, “how did this Indian carried this necklace?” (laughs).

Another incident I remember and made me feel really bad was when one morning I got a call from this woman who told me “may the God mark you the way you are marking our children”. I will never forget that.

From 2000 till 2010 it was a very intense decade. The best years of my life. We had a very good and powerful team in Nico Tattoo. Thomas Gramm, Kostas Tzikalagias, Alex Gotza, Theo Zinas, De Loop, Pantelis and Vasilis. In 2005 Nico Tattoo Athens was created with very notable persons: Spyros, Ozone, Bettie, Dimitris Chatzis, and Siemor. I would like to thank everyone that passed by, helped, and participated in Nico Tattoo all these thirty years and contribute to its success.

Did this change cost you?

No, it hasn’t. Surely it makes you sad but I think that I succeeded in doing what I had to do. I achieved all that I wanted to achieve. I didn’t want anything more, nor does anything lasts forever. I wanted to open a tattoo studio, I wanted to teach ten kids, they turned out as I expected, they were good and now they are really good. The point is to have people becoming better than you, this is what you want to achieve. Everything I hoped for, became real.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Nico Tattoo Crew.

Nikos Katsoulis Fine Art