Orge Kalodimas

Artists - Studios - Issue 11

Orge Kalodimas' love and devotion on geometric tattoo led him to his recent book publication "Solstice Mandala". Orge spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his transition from realistic to geometric tattoo, the reason why he "avoids" colour, how he met with Sake, his influences, his preference in European tattoo and tattoo's future which he finds auspicious.   

How and when were you initiated into tattooing?

I have done a classic full apprenticeship for two years, from 2005 to 2007 alongside Sake. I watched him, drew all day long, mopped and swept the studio, cleaned the tubes, set up the tattoo machines – the whole package. I also answered the phones and booked appointments. I was basically the first receptionist at Sake tattoo. I have been here since the first day the tattoo shop opened in 2005. It was just the two of us to begin with and then the crew gradually grew.

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What do you think made Sake believe you were ready, once you completed your two years?

That’s his to know (laughs). Look, up until that happened, I did a lot of tattoos on me, as well as on two of my best mates. I began gradually and did letters in the beginning and generally “easy designs”, like everyone does at that stage. In my opinion, that is how someone will appreciate the gravity of this work and prove that he can do it for the rest of his life. Because these things are kind of confused these days… That’s why many people open studios without having previously “passed through” another tattoo studio. I experienced my apprenticeship full on.

So you believe that in addition to the gravity it brings with it, an apprenticeship is inextricably connected to becoming a tattooer?

Of course! I believe that 100%. It is an unbreakable bond for life. I always call myself Sake’s apprentice and I’m honoured by it. I generally see myself as an apprentice when it comes to tattooing, meaning that you never stop learning. I mean, if you say “I got it”, that’s the end of it! You always have room to evolve.

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How did you meet Sake?

I met Giannis at “Live in Color Tattoo”, when he used to work there. I had gotten some tattoos there, by Manos. I was rather young and really into bmx, skating etc. I think the fact that we liked the same sort of art – realistic design - brought us closer together. I may be doing geometric designs now, but when I first started out I liked Sorayama, Luis Royo and all those things we saw in books we bought from Exarcheia, since there was no info on the internet then. So I hadn’t found anyone else who liked that type of illustration. At the time I really liked those kinds of illustrators and Renaissance in general, and I also painted in addition to doing graphic design. That’s how me and Sake basically “stuck” together. 

What was it that lured you into tattooing?
 
Look, begging my apprenticeship was Giannis’ proposition. I didn’t begin with the aim of becoming a professional tattoo artist. I just wanted to work in a tattoo studio. I’ve loved tattoos since I was young boy.

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How has your tattoo style evolved today and what lead you to sacred geometry?

I was always enchanted by religions and all the different cultures surrounding them. When I began my search, I was really attracted by Buddhism, Hinduism and the whole range of eastern religions which have n element of mysticism to them. That’s when I was introduced to tattoos by Mike the Athens, Jondix and Thomas Hooper. The style and mystery surrounding those designs won me over. Therefore four years ago I started looking into it and heading in that direction and somehow “daring” to do it, because that style wasn’t widespread in Greece. I did my first pieces on friends. Then I got tattoos by Jondix and Marco Galdo. I also went to many tattoo conventions and got a closer look at geometrical tattooing and that’s when I realized that that was what I wanted to do. 

Are you then completely devoted to geometric tattoos now?

Yes, only that. I mean the entire range of geometric tattooing. I do patterns and Mandalas and I sometimes add some more artistic pieces, like deities and skulls. I always painted, so it is an integral part of my life. 

So you think that people aren’t just familiar with geometric style but also seek it out?

Exactly. The biggest reward for me is that I am booked with geometric patterns for months. People now come to me and say ‘take my arm and do whatever you want’.

Do you also do freehand?

I rarely do freehand geometrics. 95% are stencils but all the designs are my own, custom made. I mainly do Blackwork and Black & Grey. The truth is, I want my tattoos to be black and white. Except for rare occasions when the client insists on having red details for example. 

Why do you “avoid” colours?

When I have a geometric sleeve in mind, I can’t “see” it in colour. I always painted in black and white and as a result I haven’t “studied” colour that much and I don’t want to experiment with my tattooing. Over time, I see tattooers who experiment with colour on Mandalas and geometric patterns, like Iain Mullen, who does it successfully. But I can’t “feel” colour. 

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Are there any artists whom you would name as influential to you?

I will begin with Mike the Athens and continue on to Jondix and Thomas Hoopers, who are in my opinion at the world’s best in this kind. I don’t think there is anyone into geometric tattoos who hasn’t been influenced by them. Also, Xed le Head and the entire “Into You Tattoos” school in London. Anyway, Xed le Head is the father of geometric tattooing and Dotism, even though not many people know that. I simply first “met” the whole sense of geometry, repetition, patterns and motifs through Mike the Athens’ work and through the artists he “produced” (Jondix, Hooper), because the elements that drew me to geometric tattooing – the symbols and the influences from Buddhism and Hinduism – were from Mike’s “school”.

I was first introduced to Xed le Head’s work in London in 2006. It was the first tattoo convention I went to abroad. I went with Sake and the entire trip was a huge lesson for me. Imagine that colour “started” after that festival. We saw “crazy” things first hand, because the only source of tattoo material back then was magazines we bought in Syntagma! That’s where I saw a girl whose entire leg was done by Xed le Head and I was in shock. I had never before seen a tattoo like that.

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Do you think tattoo conventions have evolved over the past decade?

Yes and I believe that evolution has in direct relation to the boom of tattooing worldwide. If you take a look at the age of European conventions, it rarely surpasses a decade – except for Milan and Berlin. London’s is the biggest and it has its ten year birthday this year. Of course, the tattoo convention as an institution began in the US…

However, these days Europe seems to have some of the most important tattoo conventions worldwide, such as London’s one. Why is that, in your opinion?

To begin with, I believe that the European and American tattoo schools are two completely different things. Maybe it is due to the fact that there are some powerful people behind the European conventions, such as Miki Vialetto. It also helps that distance is not an issue; tattoo conventions where the international tattoo elite is attending like London's, Amsterdam's, Paris' and Athens' are only few hours away. Also, some of the best tattoo artists are European. I personally prefer European tattooists. Even the ones I like who are in America have European origins. 

So what is it that makes you prefer the European school to the American school?

I personally find European tattoos more artistic, dark and mysterious. They have a different quality and gravity. They aren’t as fancy as the American ones. I think that Americans’ perception of tattoos is a little bit more flamboyant than Europeans’. There are of course amazing American tattoo artists. However, I think that they also use many European themes, such as Carlos Torres.

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Where would you place the Greek tattoo scene on a world scale?

I think that we have started to really stand out. Greece has some really big names now. It is no coincidence that Greek artists are taking part in the biggest tattoo conventions in the world. Apart from Mike the Athens, who is who he is, the new generation is very good and has nothing to be envious of. I mention that because some Greeks still have the mindset of “oh cool, he’s foreign”. I personally believe that at least twenty Greek tattoo artists are amongst the best in the worldwide tattoo community. 

Could we then say that a “Greek school” of tattooing is forming?

Something like ‘The Greeks’…? We are definitely on the map. However, each artist is probably on his own in his own area of expertise. During the first years of the London Tattoo Convention, which is where you meet the worldwide elite, there weren’t any Greeks except Mike the Athens. In less than the ten years of the convention’s life, there are now more than six Greek tattooers. That is a huge step forward.

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How do you see the future of tattooing?

I believe that the internet has really helped tattoo. People have started “feeling” it more. They ask for nicer designs and can easily distinguish between a good design and a “readymade” one from google. People have started distinguishing artists as well as different styles. I never liked the word “fashion”, because whatever is in fashion will blow over and I personally think that the tattoo will not blow over. I think that the more we move forward, the more tattoos we will see all over the world. 

What makes you believe that?

I personally don’t think there is a person who doesn’t want a tattoo. Even the guy who says he would never get one. It seems that the whole mystery of permanence and pain have a certain implicit charm.  

Do you think that tattoo is more socially acceptable nowadays?

Sure. From TV ads with players full of tattoos, to cooking shows with chefs who have sleeves and more. All that didn’t exist ten years ago. I can see it in my own village too. I come from a village near Monemvasia and nobody has ever said anything about my tattoos, neither to my face nor behind my back. Someone may call me ‘Skarmoutsos’ (ed. TV chef with loads of tattoos), but that’s it.

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Your first book, Solstice Mandala, was recently released. How did that come about?

The truth is I didn’t start with the aim of publishing a book. The whole project began on the morning of the 21st June 2013. I was on my way to the studio listening to the radio and I heard that today was the beginning of the Summer Solstice. It made me start searching… So I found out that the 21st of June is the longest day of year and the 21st of December is the longest night of the year. This is a fact that does not change and is repeated every year. I was really enthralled by the fact that everything around us changes but that natural phenomenon is constant. Like a continuous cycle. I thought of a Mandala circle and, inspired by that fact, I designed a Mandala that very day. 

With that as a starting point, I decided to do a project where I would make one Mandala a day for the remaining 184 days. That’s what happened. The whole project acquired a certain significance via social media. As a result, I started warming to it. The book proposition came around August by the guys who set it all up for me, Harris and Elena. The continuous motivation and love that people gave me helped me overcome the difficulties and live up to the demands of this venture. Imagine that when I went on my summer holidays in 2013 and took a little break from the whole design thing, I started getting messages like ‘Where are you?’.

So you did kind of “cheated”?

Yes and I cheated again, because after September we had a lot of work at the studio and I couldn’t keep up with doing one per day so I made up for it with doing more Mandalas on Sundays. I did the last one on the 21 of December and if you take a look they are all numbered, one for each day.

Are there maybe any Mandalas that you would distinguish from the rest?

I have a soft spot for the ones I added more elements to: a Buddha, an owl etc. Those also had more work to them and I usually designed them on Sundays (laughs).

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Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

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Orge Sketches 

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Orge Kalodima's book "Solstice Mandala" can be found at www.stcpublishing.com.

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