Chris Papadakis

Artists - Studios - Issue 26

With a steady rising in recent years and a strong presence abroad, Chris Papadakis spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his adoration of Old School tattoo, the thematology and timelessness of the genre, the red second outline that characterizes him, how he ended up becoming a tattoo artist, his influences, the stimuli he receives from the environment and the future of tattoo.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

Since when do you work as a tattoo artist? What where you doing before?

I am a professional tattoo artist since 2010. In 2003 I started my studies at the Technical University of Piraeus in the department of Automatism and meanwhile, I used to work as a menswear salesman until 2007, when I quit my job to join the army. When I finished my army duties, I worked as a salesman at a store equipment company and at the same time as a car-parking attendant at a bar-restaurant.

What was it that "drew" you into tattooing?

When I was a child, around seven or eight years old, during my summer vacation, I saw a family friend at the beach, with a butterfly tattooed on her back. It immediately caught my attention how could someone have their skin drawn permanently, without it wearing off. Coming back from vacation, I noticed on the shoulder of a neighbor, who was a sailor, a pin-up girl. In such a sort amount of time, I had the chance to see two people who had decorated their skin with tattoos. I found it totally amazing, because it was that time in my life, when I would explore the world. At this point, I have to mention that my mother is a painter and due to that, I liked painting since a very young age and every form of painting could just draw my interest.

Growing up, I realized that what lured me into tattooing, was the nature itself of that “peculiar” technique of artistic expression. During my teenage years, in the late 90s, I started doing graffiti and at the same time drawing ideas for tattoos. What was the current trend at these days were Tribal and American Traditional tattoos. I would draw all the time, in my free time, but also during class.

How did you start? Where you an apprentice to some other tattoo artist?

Since 1998 and until 2010 I was an active graffiti artist and alongside, I was painting on canvas, using, acrylics, pastels, sprays and everything together. In 2009, I wanted to experiment with another form of drawing just out of curiosity. I was having a conversation with a friend - he was an artist as well - about new means of drawing and he suggested that I should try out tattooing. "It's easy", he said, but he was so wrong... I remember him explaining it to me like this: you just put the stencil onto skin and then you draw what you see in ink. Because I already had some tattoos on me and I had watched the whole process, the way he described it seemed logical to me - only if I knew better - and I thought, why not?

Since I was working two jobs at the time, I had the money to invest in the right equipment and due to the wide internet access it was pretty easy to search and figure out what should I buy or not.

So, I got the equipment that I needed, I watched some videos on YouTube, I ordered some DVDs in order to help me learn how to tattoo and I invited a friend over at my house to tattoo on him a 6 x 6 cm star. It took a few hours, I remember, but the result was pretty good, as this particular tattoo is still standing until today. After that, my friend brought over another friend, and his friend brought another friend and suddenly I was tattooing people at my place. Back then, this was never the plan in any case, that this would have been my professional future. That's why, when people ask me, I always say that tattooing was the one that chose me.

Did you take up other styles of tattooing as well before you chose Old School? 

Old School tattooing is much closer to my aesthetics. It is the style I like to see on people and the one I like to have on myself. So, inevitably this is the style of tattoos that I started getting and the style I love giving to others. This is where I specialize in and I consider it to be the one that I could give the best of myself into.

However, as a professional artist, you need to be able to do everything and do it well. Every time I give somebody a tattoo I use a 100% of myself and I enjoy every drawing I make, weather it is something small and simple, like a monogram on a wrist, or something larger and more elaborate such as an eagle fighting with a snake (ed. Classic theme: Battle Royal) that can cover the entire chest.

What do you love the most about Old School?

The timelessness of it is the element that I love. For instance, the same swallow drawing was the one they were tattooing in the 1920s and it is the same I am tattooing today. It is exactly the same and it is still remaining modern and contemporary. 

I also adore how Old School tattoos resist time and they remain solid and bold. No matter how many years will pass, they will always look beautiful. I love the simplicity of them, the fact that two lines and two colours can say that much. You do not often meet this quality in other styles of tattooing or other forms of art.

Do you consider that the specific themes of this style can bind you artistically?

I am trying not to be bound by the themes, but on the contrary, to be inspired to add something extra to it, when someone is asking for something more demanding and I need to think out of the box.

Although I am basically doing the classic, traditional designs, I have many clients, who ask for a lot of designs outside of the classic thematology of American traditional tattooing and many times the themes are more surreal, in spite of being tattooed in an Old School style. For example, one of my favourite tattoos is a portrait of Nietzsche, decorated with an old school rose, staring at his black reflection in the mirror, having a hole on his forehead, out of which comes a peculiar staircase. This is not, by any means, a classic Old School tattoo theme, but the result proves that in art, no artist should be bound by rules.

In plenty of your tattoos you are characteristically using a red outline, why is that?

This is an aftereffect of doing graffiti, it is the so called second outline, that I always use in my graffiti and later, I transferred it to my tattoos. It works well and it is a specific characteristic of my style, adding a certain identity to it. Many times, when someone is random browsing on tattoos and he notices the red outline, he will think right away, that this is one of my tattoos.

What are your influences?

I like to notice my environment. I am always standing and watching images, the trees, the water forming puddles on the sides of the pavement, the sky, the sunset, the cars, the faces of the people, their expressions... I observe the images and I learn from them, I try to claim whatever I can out of those images and use it in my tattooing. On a second level, come the works of art, the paintings, the advertisements, the post cards from the last decades, especially the ones coming from the U.S.A., where, back then, art played a huge role in the advertisement industry. Even the war, at these days, war advertised through artwork. And last but not least, I get inspired by other tattoo artists that I admire.

Which tattoo artists have influenced you the most?

I have been influenced by the historical tattoo artists: Sailor Jerry, Bert Grimm, Amund Dietzel, Lyle Tuttle, Don Ed Hardy, George Burchett etc. and by some contemporary ones such as Bill Loika, Daniel Sawyer etc.

Do you prefer tattooing small or large pieces?

I always prefer doing pieces that can be finished in one appointment. This is, besides, the philosophy of the style that I serve. Old School tattoos where done mainly on sailors and people who traveled a lot. You cannot travel the world and leave ''unfinished business'' behind. You visit a new place, you get your ''souvenir'' and you leave. This is Old School.

Do you have a larger Greek or international clientele?

Due to the fact that I divide my time between my tattoo studio in Greece and my travels around the world, I end up having more international clients, because, apart from the clients I have abroad, I also, have those who travel from abroad to Greece in order to get tattooed by me.

Do you believe that your work is more recognized on an international level than it is in Greece?

Yes, I do. I realize it from my travels, from how easy it is to book my appointments, from the pieces my clients ask me to draw for them, and from the messages of expressing their interest in my work. Technology can confirm it, as well. Taking a look at the analytics of my pages, I observe that the majority of the visitors come from abroad and even looking at my follower count, it is easy to spot that the 75% are international followers.

What do you enjoy the most about your work?

The time I get paid hahaha! I enjoy every moment of it: by the time I start preparing my working space, the time that the ''ritual'' is starting to the last wipe of the tattoo, the announcement to the client that his tattoo is ready and his smile in the mirror when he looks at his new tattoo. Travelling, meeting new people, discovering new cultures, filling myself with new images, making new friends; some of them are clients becoming my friends and some are partners we have worked together at some guest and some are tattoo artists that I met at a convention. It is really magical what this job can offer you.

How do you feel when you come across a ''crap'' tattoo that was made recently? Given that the level of technical ability has been constantly evolving and that there are plenty of images of impeccable tattoo work on the Internet.

Everyone has the tattoo he deserves.

How do you see the future of tattoo during and after COVID-19?

From a technical point of view, there aren't a lot of things changing from the way we already work. We were, either way, trained to work with the strict rules of hygiene and this is what we keep doing, so this does not trouble me at all.

However, what unfortunately is changing, is the possible restriction of future travelling, which makes it difficult for me to travel abroad and also for my international clients to come to Greece. Moreover, some tattoo conventions may stop happening or there may be restrictions as to how many people are allowed to enter the venue, which destroys the dynamic, the efficiency and the magic of a convention.

I hope that we will get through this whole situation really soon and we will get back to our normal pace of life and I hope we will learn something from this, so that next time we will be much better prepared.

Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Chris Papadakis and Moth & Rose Tattoo Shop.