Recognized for his long career in the field of graffiti and having transfer his characteristic - mainly lettering and cartoon character - style of his in his tattoos, Jasone SGB, aka Dimitris Bairaktaridis, spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine for his first contact with tattoo in the army, the similarities between tattoo and graffiti, the code of ethics, the reasons why he  didn't get involved earlier with tattooing, and why he is not covered from head to toe with ink.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

At what age did you first get introduced to graffiti and how has your relationship with it has evolved through time?

From the moment I was born, I am painting. From then on, since that was something inherent in me, I contacted for the first time the whole graffiti culture back in 1985 when I was ten. The first spray I held in my hands was back in 1990 and I am purely self-taught. In 1985 I lived in Alexandroupoli where all this hip hop wave has arrived but it still wasn’t recognised in Greece. I am referring to the era of Stamatis Gardelis (ed. greek actor starring in famous 80’s movies), breakdance, and cheesiness and that was something brand new, and the same goes for all this “black music” of Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa. That was when I first encountered groups dancing in parks and that was so new to me, a crazed kid longing to crawl on the floors!

So, this is how more or less music entered my DNA. Coming to Thessaloniki, that was a bigger city and things were quite different, I started doing my search. I found some music, some vinyls and a couple of people who where from the same planet as me. We exchanged music and continued to dance as much as we could. Then came the 90’s and I met graffiti through some documentaries I watched on the television. I realised that it was interconnected with the musical part we followed and believed on, and that, in general, this is how trends are born, through music waves. Since that was a part of black music and hip hop’s context which I loved and with my background in painting I began doing graffiti. In graffiti I found the craziness I have in me and at the same time I avoided some situations such as teen worries, relationship disappointments etc. I had found my medicine. Together with my crew we spend these “illegal years” and all the chasing. During the process I became interested in taking this up to another level, but not to prove something or become an artist or a graffiti-painter. It came naturally because that was what I liked and I did and still do it for me only. I just happened to like the fact that I also served the whole culture I supported ever since I was young through this.

When did you first connect with tattoo?

I did my first tattoo when I served in the army in Alexandroupoli and it was of course done by Nikos in his house - that was also his studio back then. I met him (ed. Nikos Katsoulis) in 1993. Even Thomas (ed. Thomas Gramm) was there and he was a young kid. Nikos was authentic as always, but in a more old-fashioned way with old tattoo machines etc. Under these circumstances I had my first tattoo, a scorpion, well hidden now underneath my clothes. I have made plans with a mate who was born the same day and time as me to do the same design together. I initially sketched the design in graffiti style and then Nikos prepared it appropriately. My mate came with the KTEL bus, but with this horrible road - since the Egnatia Road didn’t exist at the time - he was dizzy so I thought, “I will do it and you will watch”. In the meantime I was really scared but decided to get over it. That was my first ever contact with tattoo and I am glad it was a punk one.

How did your involvement with tattoo come up?

Some of my friends, former graffiti artists were already doing tattoos and that made me to enter this world and see it from a professional aspect. More specifically, some of the most renowned tattoo artists are former graffiti painters. I liked the whole tattoo idea a lot and I looked at it as a different kind of technique from that of graffiti and painting. My knowledge and my long relationship with painting helped me to have a base. So in 2011, I thought to myself “why don’t you take the risk and do something you love” and I made the move.

How did you learn to tattoo?

Some of my fellow tattooers showed me some technical parts - the procedure and how you deal with the hygiene part. I also came down to Gianni’s shop (ed. Sake). I visited some conventions and then I began. Attending tattoo conventions has opened my eyes a lot because I contacted many tattoo artists, their moves and their style.

I consider the fact that I wasn’t a young kid has helped me a lot in all the aspects of this job. What you basically do, is that you set up a surgery, you are dealing with blood, skin, everything a human body carries and of course what you are going to offer the client. How will you touch him, with what, and of course with all these supplies that technology nowadays has made easier. You have a responsibility for the person that is sitting opposite you. From that point onwards, as soon as I opened the shop, many people trusted me because they were already familiar with my work and my style. This has been a great help, but it happened slowly and hesitantly.

How come you didn’t decide to get involved with tattooing earlier?

When I did my first tattoos, tattoo in Greece was far from being socially acceptable. It is widely known that Greeks do not easily accept something that is not within their culture, like tattoo and graffiti. My involvement with graffiti was already considered “marginal” and I didn’t want to bring my people in a difficult position. Since then, things at the social level have changed, while studios weren’t as they used to be and I realised that I could support and be financially supported by this thing.

Do you love tattoo as much as graffiti?

I love it in a different kind of way. It’s another thing, you are contacting another person, create a relationship and then give him something he will carry with him his whole life. For example, when people are telling you “I will never forget you” then what can I say… Only love is born in here - not one of your children you left at a wall - that’s how I described every single wall I ever did graffiti on, as one of my children.

Is your tattoo style somewhere between graffiti and cartoon?

Yes I try to mix certain styles. Lettering has changed, it’s not the one used in a wall anymore. I generally love letters and characters. I have always been a guy that loved comics and that’s what I try to pass on. Those who know me come to me especially for this kind of stuff. In my studio now (ed. Style Matters) there are other tattoo artists who support different tattoo styles - realism, graphic, linear, traditional etc. What I do is to take what I dig and like from each style and mix it with my own style.

Do you only take up custom pieces?

Yes, I prefer that. Even if they ask me to do a readymade design I will try to intervene a bit and inform the client that this is the staff I do. That his idea is good, but I will use his idea and create the whole theme from the beginning to the end.

Do you think there are common characteristics between tattoo and graffiti?

In the past there weren’t many. However, as time goes by, we come across numerous common characteristics as in Greece as well as abroad many graffiti artists have become tattoo artists. This becomes evident through all the new styles that were created, from the popularity of Neo Traditional tattoos which basically redefine an old style with new ideas, as well as with the extended use of colour.

I think that the graffiti scene has offered many new elements and tastes through tattoo. This is also a fact that led companies of tattoo supplies to create and release colours in a huge range.
Tattoo has entered the whole thing quite professionally with many companies that support tattooing because they produce tattoo machines, inks etc. As with graffiti, there is an entire industry behind it. I just think that the tattoo industry is better set up and robust.

To what degree has graffiti helped you with tattooing?

A great deal - if we isolate the responsibility and stick to the artistic part. Holding a spray is totally different to holding a tattoo machine. To me, holding a tattoo machine is much easier than holding a half kilo of paint trying to adjust a design in 1000x100 dimensions. When it comes to technique I think it is more difficult. On the other hand, tattoo’s difficulty- apart from the responsibility part that makes your hand heavy when holding the tattoo machine - lies in the uniqueness of each skin. It’s not a piece of paper or a wall where if something goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world…

Is there a moral code in graffiti, as in tattoo?

Yes, there are unwritten laws. One ought to show respect to another. Not go and draw over their piece. Of course many times we struggled to get the permit regarding the drawing of a wall, and that's how hall of fames were born, where at a later time became a real mess as you would go and draw over your piece or another's; however you would always try and not draw over something better than your own new piece. A beautiful piece was worth of respect. Through respect, this whole process of friendship and crews was born.

How do you perceive the moral code of tattoo?

In tattooing it is advisable not to continue a piece that someone else has started. Of course a decision of this kind involves one more person, the tattoo bearer, either being in disagreement with the tattooist, or the tattooist having no time to continue the task. So he reaches you to finish it, which brings you in a difficult position. I ideally talk to the fellow tattooist so that he gives me a kind of “blessing” to go. Of course, a necessary precondition is that our personal styles match, or else what's the point to take it over?

It goes without saying that one ought to respect the old and great-acknowledged artists. One has to say “you know what, this piece is such and such, you should talk with him first” or “don't do something like that even if you did it when you were eighteen years old and now you're forty”. A piece like that cannot be carved over, this tattoo artist isn't a random one; he has a name. The tattoo itself acquires a certain value, it's like talking about a work of Picasso, that's the way we see it... romantically. It's good to inform them of the pieces they have on them cause they might not know who Magaret or Nico is.

Have you ever had a prospective client with an old tattoo by Nikos Katsoulis (Nico) and/or Magaret whom you have prevented from proceeding after explaining the situation?

Seldom, it however happens; or they approach us while knowing what they bear, because they say “I did it with Panthiras, or Magaret, or Nico, or Jimmys'. I say “dude, if you know who carved you, what's the point talking it over?” and they get the picture right away. They even take pride of it and say “sure, ok, I'm just here to refresh it a bit”. This is the romanticism that existed in graffiti too, which is still present but with certain attitudes of its own. As for me, I haven't messed with my tattoos, even though I could at any given moment.

They are mementoes.

For sure, that's why I had them. When you see me, I am one of the “cleanest” tattooers; I've been “marked” ten times, but all my tattoos are hidden and mean something to me. What I did was for specific reasons.

So you didn't like them to be visible at plain sight?

No, I didn't care if they would show or not, I just wanted a specific thing on me. Just as we old-timers drew in abandoned buildings, before the internet age, and nobody saw it. We did it just to have some nice time. We knew that whenever we went there and, so to speak, light our candle, we would find the wall. Nowadays that everything happens for exposure, a graffiti artist doesn't care to draw somewhere in secret, because the second after he finishes it, be it in a cesspit or in a cave, the whole world will see it because he will take a photo of it and then “share” it. In other words, the magic is gone.

It's the same with tattoo. When sleeves are done for the sake of selfies and so on. It's not that I'm against all this, if you are into getting a sleeve, do it, live for the moment. Girls come and ask what happens if they get pregnant, if they gain or lose weight and so on. If you put too much thought on it, don't do it. Come to terms with yourself a bit, and from that point onwards it will show who did what and for what reason. I mean if you're critical enough to do so...

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Style Matters Tattoo Studio.

Jasone SGB sketches, paintings & art.

Jasone SGB graffiti.