Dr Pepper / Giannis Piperakis

Artists - Studios - Issue 18

The talented Giannis Piperakis, known as Dr Pepper, spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine for his beginning and course, the importance of working with his own standards, the "addiction" that tattoo causes, the existence of tattooers for all tastes, the acceptance and respect with which Greek tattoo artists are been treated abroad, as well as for the upcoming evolutionary change of his known and recognized realistic style.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

How did you follow this path in your life?

I liked tattoo and I initially wanted to have it as a hobby. In 2000 I had just finished my studies in Graphic Design and I thought that before I get into the routine of the job I should do something for myself. To go on a long trip because you never know what will happen next. And I did that. I worked in the summer season, made some money and went to Hungary. I spend six months at a tattoo studio there, learned some basic stuff and came back having tattoo machines, needles and colours since there weren’t any tattoo suppliers at the time in Greece and the choices when it came to tattoo were limited. I started at a slow pace to give tattoos from my house and my goal was, as I already mentioned, to have it as a hobby and not as a profession.

How did tattoo turned out to be a part of your interests?

Because I was drawing my friends encouraged me from time to time to get involved with tattooing and I thought, “why not give it a try”? Essentially it was my friends’ idea, I made an attempt and one thing led to another. It worked out well practically. Maybe what attracted me was the fact that it seemed to me as something different at that period.

How did your relationship with tattooing evolve afterwards?

Returning from Hungary in 2001 at first I used to take needles and stuck them myself as it was customary then. But I wasn’t satisfied with the result so I turned to Dermagrafics, which had a good reputation in matters of hygiene. They wanted to be sure that they don’t give needles to “butchers” so they asked to see my work and when they saw my work was quite good for a beginner they proposed to me to work with them. I had already started working at a clothing design company from London so in the beginning I went around in the afternoons at five after I have finished working so I only could manage one appointment at the studio while at the same time I was doing my apprenticeship with Dimitris Aronis. When things in my day job started to fall apart I had a “ready” proposal. So, all this came really naturally, I didn’t put any pressure on it. I stayed in Dermagrafics until 2012. Later the same year I opened up my own studio, Dr Pepper Tattoo.

Consequently, you were more attracted from the tattoo world than the fashion world?

There is no magic story behind that. I started tattooing entirely as an experiment. I said, “why not do something beyond graphics”? There was a possibility that it wouldn’t attract me but it did, it went well and in the end of course it won me over compared to my old job. There is no secret behind that (laughs).

So can we just say that your full-time involvement with tattooing was a matter of coincidence?

Yes, in our life there is also the luck factor. No matter how good we are in something, whether we like to believe it or not, luck always plays a big part. So it helped me. Simple things.

What changed when you started been 100% occupied with tattooing?

When tattooing became my only occupation I got completely inside the routine and the way a tattoo studio at that time worked. At first, I was following the rules of the tattoo studio I was working, of course, but essentially my work style right now began to develop when I met the people that had the same mentality as me. One characteristic example is Luba Goldina, a tattooist of Russian origin who lives in Turkey .When we met I visited her in her studio and saw the way she was working. Her way was entirely different from everything I knew. She got to know her clients on a personal level, they told her their stories and she sat there and ended up producing an entire painting. She prepared every single tattoo-before she gave it, by hand - painting. This is definitely very hard for the daily standards of the job. However, I was blown away by that and I tried to adopt it as much as I could. That was when I started preparing more carefully the majority of the tattoos I was about to give.

What period was that?

Around 2008. That’s when I think I began to differentiate a bit and to change artistically to what I am now. Unfortunately, my priorities began to differentiate from those of the tattoo studio I was working, resulting in ending our collaboration a few years later. This is why in this studio I try to familiarise the kids with the personal contact with the client and with more custom jobs.

In the past, there were few designs and you had to pick from them. In our days, I think it is dump to give ready-made designs. Some people show up and say “I want that” and I explain to them that there is no restriction and it is silly to do the same stuff.

How did you decide to open up your own tattoo studio?

The truth is I had many proposals but I chose the hard way since all the proposals presupposed that I  had some partners who might not shared my way of thinking, regarding personal contact, putting more effort, etc. All the professional proposals I had inside and outside of the field I feared that even though they might have been helpful at first I would still come across problems so I made the tough decision to do something on my own.

Ιn the end, how did that turn out for you?

It was quite difficult at first since I wasn’t even prepared financially and I didn’t know how to manage a studio. I just knew how to draw. This is where Aggeliki’s knowledge helped a great deal as she was already in the field and with whom we started together sharing the same vision and she took over the shop’s management. Fortunately, I was already quite a few years in the field so as to step on the experience I had. I didn’t know how it will go. It was possible that it wouldn’t turn out well. It was a risk - with personal cost as after we set up everything I had an operation to remove my gall - but in the end it paid off.

How is the situation now?

There is no ending because all the better things are going you don’t give up, me at least. And I want us to evolve as a studio. First of all, my priority is to transfer my knowledge and experience to the kids that are here. I am now happy there are people who know and accept my work so my goal is to make the entire studio known and how much a good job all the other tattoo artist I work with are doing, because all of them are here after a very thorough research. We are also involved in the commercial part (t-shirts, hats, jewellery etc), hoping to make something more creative as a whole. We try for the best possible quality so as to represent the same kind of quality we believe we have in our tattoo. Therefore, things are not calm. When something goes well, we open up new chapters. This means we have a long road ahead of us. What will come out and how it will come out we have no idea.

Apart from the studio’s fast progress I am under the impression that your own progress has been exceptionally fast, this last two or three years you went abroad. What was that pushed you to evolve to such a degree?

There were two main factors. The first one is that I now work with my own standards which means I don’t have to answer to someone or compromise to someone else’s standards. And the second was that I have very good contacts, meaning, the moment I opened up the shop I started travelling. What you get from travelling is the experience; you don’t go to work there in order to make money. At this stage, you are aiming for contacts and exchanging opinions. I also have a very good network of contacts inside Greece, like with the Dirty Roses. I must admit I admire Kostas Tzikalagias a lot. He has been in the field for so many years and he still makes his own designs every single day! Moreover, through travelling I got to meet this tattoo artist I have been admiring for many years in realism, Matteo Pasqualin with whom we have maintained a friendly relationship. So, I have these good contacts and role models that influence me in a positive way.

Do people treat you differently abroad compared to Greece?

I am a bit more popular abroad for my style than I am in Greece. Basically, I choose to go to certain countries where I start to make circles of contacts. More specifically, in France, Italy, Switzerland and Spain I have began making large pieces, which means that when I go back there I will continue with them. Most of the times some friends of my clients who have seen my work show up and they, in turn, want me to tattoo them and they are like “get us in the programme and we will do whatever you like”. They seem to accept you more.

Do you think that they respect your work more?

They have a different mentality. They generally seem to think of artists differently.

Would you characterise this period you are going through now your best so far?

I feel I still have a long way ahead of me. So far I have a thousand of things in my head and I want from now on to find more time to grab a pencil and a brush again. This is when I think I will begin to reach the level I want to be. If you want to put it that way, let’s just say that now I am in the 60% of where I want to go and I believe I can make it. I have taken plain realism at a certain level but now I want to go beyond that. I want to put something inside that’s more personal than the aesthetic of contrast, the deep colours, etc and to start including graphic elements too. To propose that to the people of course you first have to propose that on paper and with a few examples. I have already started but in order to make it right I have to find the time to prepare myself better so I am hoping the new season things will start going as desired.

Visually, I would like to give tattoo a bigger variety in forms. With the experience I have and the technique I have excelled I will keep realism and the knowledge on it but I don’t want tattoo as a whole to be loaded, one piece and full of shadows. I want it to breath and with graphic elements, with flat surfaces. To be able to direct the eye where I want more which is something I do now with realism but I think that I can enhance that with the use of graphic elements. I want to escape clear realism.

That is, in some kind of way, you will come back to your original job property?

I will just start being more influenced by it!

Since realism still remains particularly popular in our country how do you think people are going to react to this upcoming change in your style?

My desire is to evolve what I do. I know it might be hard since my clients come from Athens, the periphery and abroad and they tell me “I wanted to come to you because I have seen your quality, your style with no lines which comes out so clear”. While I now want to add lines and change that. It’s bit hard.

You will take the risk.

Essentially I see it as an evolution and as something interesting. If I do the same stuff all the time I get bored. This is why, although these last years I have been more famous for my realistic style, I think I am not entirely identified with it. What I mean is that I can touch upon other styles apart from realism if I choose to do so.

Therefore do you think that a tattoo artist is more “complete” when his training is more spherical?

It is necessary to have the base. From that point onwards, every artist evolves. For me, you definitely need to have a spherical training so as to have a more conscious evolution.

How would you characterise your style at this moment?

It is now mostly realistic. Black & Grey with details and strong contrasts. I mainly invest in quality and timelessness, that’s why I am a bit slow. I am careful to make clear cuts, beautiful ombre features and all these things demand time. You can’t have both quality and timelessness and do fast work! I wish there was a way that would be known to me.

When you refer to timelessness, do you mean that the tattoo “stays” on skin over time?

Yes, exactly.

Realistic tattoo’s “fight” with time…

If you notice, most of my tattoos, I don’t upload pictures every day, I’d rather wait for them to “come” and photograph them healed and the way they stayed on skin. This is for me the most important thing.

How do see the situation in our country when it comes to tattoo?

Very well. Thanks to (good) competition there is evolution. There are good and bad tattooers as there are everywhere, but from what I see we have many good artists that I admire, I follow and they influence me. I will tell you something that happened that I have been also telling Vasilis Exarchos (ed. owner of Medusa Tattoo) about when we first met. They think very highly of Greek tattoo artists abroad. I was in this studio in France tattooing a sleeve and a tattooer who worked there comes up and sits over me and and says “wow, awesome” and he calls his friend, who was also a tattooer and says “come over and see what he’s doing” and then the other guy comes, checks and says “of course, he’s Greek, what did you expect”? This verifies how they see us abroad.

Do you support each other?

Mostly yes. I see there is optimism and only good things come out of collaborations, because there is work for everybody so there is no reason to throw someone down in order for you to climb up. At least I have a lot of tattooers coming over to get tattooed. I go to other studios, people from other studios come here, artists come over for coffee, to chat, we meet in events, etc.

Do you think there is enough work for everyone even though things in our days are tougher?

Nowadays, truth be told, tattoo sells a great deal! I have discouraged many people from becoming my clients. Someone tells me “I have a family, I’ve made a sleeve, I don’t have work, let’s go to the other sleeve”. I tell him “Slow down. Enjoy it. Tattoo is not your priority”. People get crazy. Maybe it’s because that’s one of the few things nobody can take away from them.

Do you think that there can be an “addiction” issue?

Addiction… yes. It’s something of an accessible “luxury” that stays with you, you dig it and it lifts your psychology. From time to time, many people have come in an awful state psychologically and they want to have a tattoo because they broke up with someone or someone close to them passed away or anything. We engage in small talk, we do the tattoo and then they go feeling better.

How do you perceive the “fashion” part of the tattoo?

It exists. Thanks to Skarmoutsos and those on television that made it less of a taboo. We take advantage of that financially as much as artistically, because the more people have the urge and look for things, the more demand there is and it’s easier for you to propose new ideas. Because people are now more open minded when it comes to tattoo and in this manner we evolve as well. That’s the ultimate goal.

Do you think that the people in our country have started to form some kind of a “tattoo consciousness”?

The more people have tattoos the more you see it in your daily life and the more you accept it. I think we still have a long way to go until we see it in a more conscious way. From the other hand, everyone defines what is conscious differently. It’s not something standardized. I generally think that in tattoo there is no right and wrong. Everyone promotes it as he pleases and the people are free to make a choice as to where they will address to. Everything is available and each one goes to the tattooer that suits him.

So everyone gets the tattoo he “deserves”?

Exactly, everybody has the tattooer that suits him. Dimitris Aronis has said that and it is valid. Wise words. Because you have the choices, indeed. You want to go to that guy because he is the “mana” or he’s “popular”. You may receive an average work but it would be tattooed from the “man”. Personally, I will never judge if he did well or not.

Do you think that the wider audience is searching beyond the basics?

The wider audience unfortunately not so far, but it goes towards the right direction, the more time passes. The truth is that the people ought to make a good research before having a tattoo and they can’t blame someone else, because if the artist is not a responsible person that is obvious in his work.

And if someone is an absolute beginner and has not yet developed the criteria so as to be aware of this sort of stuff?

Let me tell you something. If you were about to buy a motorbike and you had no idea of motorbikes, wouldn’t you feel obliged to search, ask, study comparing tests and have a test drive? It would then be the motorbike’s fault if it turned out to be trashy? It’s a matter of common sense but go find it…

What has tattoo offered you on a personal level?

When I make a tattoo exactly as desired and even better than I have imagined, I find myself smiling. So this is almost a daily satisfaction. It’s like having sex. And when you see the client in the mirror and you realise, from the look in his eyes, that he is pleased, it gives you the best kind of satisfaction anything can ever offer you.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I would like to reach the style in that point I told you about. A style that will have more respect for tattoo, will have outlines etc. I heard that the other day when I was in Milan. The discussion was that many realists with very good level that had no reason whatsoever to change it, have turned on a more simplified style.

What do you mean more simplified?

They turn to the past, regarding the technical part. This return happens consciously.
Do you think that the technical part has reached a certain point and can’t go further than that?
When you think and say that it has been “terminated”, you see then something even more outrageous. I saw the other day a piece from an unknown Russian tattooist and I zoom in and I say no way this is real and I search and find these tiny flaws that prove that this indeed is a real tattoo. There was no limitation aesthetically. And luckily for that, because if there was an ending point and you thought that I reached it then you would have to stop and change your profession.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Dr Pepper Tattoo.

Giannis Piperakis' Fine Art.