Ozone, aka Dimitris Tentzeris, spoke to HeartbeatInk Tattoo Magazine about his longtime relationship with painting, the art of tattoo for the sake of which he dropped out of the Athens School of Fine Arts, the difficulties of realistic tattoo, the reasons for preferring Black & Grey, where his rapid development is due and whether there is competition in the Greek tattoo scene.

Photos & interview by Ino Mei.

What is your relation to painting and art in general?

My parents and grandfather had discerned my inclination towards painting from the first classes of elementary school. I was always painting a canvas of some sort, while I was taking private lessons and I was learning how to do busts, still life, landscapes e.t.c. In the 4th year of elementary school I had my first solo exhibition with 100 pieces, at the Folklore Museum of Asia Minor Union of Nea Eryhthraia.

Later on I started graffiti. I believe that graffiti is ‘in parallel’ with tattoo. Meaning that if you know how to draw, the only thing you need to learn is the technique; how to use the spray and respectively in tattooing the needle.


You attended the Athens School of Fine Arts and then you interrupted your studies. Why did that happen?

I was admitted to the Fine Arts School in 2004, as soon as I graduated from high school. I completed my first year, half the courses from my second year and almost none from the third year. The fourth and fifth year doesn’t even exist to me since I had already started tattooing and in the end I dropped out for the sake of tattoo. 

How did you make the decision to drop out of such an important and respected academic institution?

The School of Fine Arts may be a ‘Superior’ institution, however in my opinion it’s not really what people possibly think it is… 

What do you mean by that?

Things are kind of running loose there. Some professors live in their own world. You just get a piece of paper from a Superior public institution. 

Basically, you don’t learn how to paint in the School of Fine Arts. You are supposed to know how to paint from before and you go there to develop your horizons. When I was accepted, I already had my ‘ego’ in the field of art, due to my longtime relationship with painting and graffiti. I tried numerous things in the School of Fine Arts but in the end I realized that they didn’t interest me and that’s when tattoo entered my life.


How did you get in touch with the art of tattoo?

In 2009 Spyros (the owner and body piercer of Nico Tattoo Crew Athens) was stretching my ears. It was that time when I wasn’t really showing up at the Athens School of Fine Art for classes and I mentioned to him that I was involved with graffiti. At the time the only two people tattooing in the studio were Bettie and Bua. He then asked to see my work and he asked me to drop by the studio to start. If I remember correctly, I started in February 2009. For about a month I was designing, dealing with clients, when meanwhile Spyros was helping me understand the things I was asking him about tattooing – and even though he is not an artist himself, he knows everything about it - and I was watching Bettie and Bua work. 

After the first month, Spyros sent me to Thessaloniki, where I met Nikos Katsoulis and the rest of the guys; Thomas Gramm, Kostas Tzikalagias and De Loop. Before I went to Thessaloniki, I did my first tattoos; I tattooed Spyros and Econe. During my journey in Thessaloniki, Nikos – whom I admire deeply - got me to do a few tattoos on some friends of mine and guided me through them. As soon as I got back, Spyros suggested that I start tattooing. And that’s how I started quite shyly tattooing, after only two months. My first tattoo on a client was a small letter, on a girl. . 

I feel very lucky that I found myself in one of the best studios and that this whole thing went so smoothly from the beginning. I had the right people to teach me the art of tattooing. And thanks to the fact that some people knew me through graffiti, I started tattooing very quickly. I had my own clients immediately and I was covering my basic needs, as well as to have the chance to help financially my family and friends. I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I believed that a degree from the School of Fine Arts wouldn’t help me in any other way. 

I still feel lucky to be here at Nico Tattoo Crew Athens, as the atmosphere in the shop, the cooperation and my everyday reality with the whole team - Spyros, Ners, Dimitris Chatzis, Siemor, Taxis, Anna, Marta and Nina - is the best I could have.


What do you think made you evolve so quickly and shine so quickly in the field of tattooing?

My education - when it comes to drawing, in combination with my experience from graffiti - surely helped my evolution as an artist. Academic drawing which is taught in tutorials when you prepare for the School of Fine Arts – at least that’s how it was in my days - I believe helps you later on with any form of art you choose to get involved with. I also think that the period I started getting involved with tattoo contributed to it. In 2009 there wasn’t this state of ‘panic’ that exists nowadays. All these tattoo studios that we see now didn’t exist. Things were sort of calmer. Moreover, you wouldn’t come across so many tattooists with academic or artistic backgrounds – in the artistic I also include graffiti. These are the things that have to do with the artistic part. When it comes to the technical part, either you learn it yourself – something that will take many years - or you go to a studio and you have someone next to you who knows the art and isn’t a some random dude that owns a tattoo studio and knows how to guide you, to teach you how to make a line that stands, the shadows, how to assemble and dissemble the tattoo machine e.t.c. Basically it’s like learning a new language.


Regarding the technique in tattooing, do you think that your background in painting and your experience as a graffiti artist helped you at it? 

I don’t believe it has anything to do with it. As time goes by, you get to grips with it. Tattoo follows certain rules. The first person that I saw doing realistic tattoos was Carlos Torres. I had seen tattoos of his online, I really liked his fine art designs and I decided that that’s how I would like to evolve as well. The first year I was in the tattoo business, I went to the Milan tattoo convention with Bettie and Spyros, where I had made an appointment months before with Torres to get a tattoo from him. I gave him my forearm so that I could be able to oversee all the procedure. Because let’s say that you have the stencil ready and you stick it on. Where do you start to work from? It’s not for example like the Old School where you start from the outline, then the filling and then the colouring. This kind of tattooing is really different and I believe that in 2009-2010 you wouldn’t come across it often in Greece. When we got back to Athens, I started following the technique that Torres had used -  as I was still at the beginning. 

In the past – before I became a tattoo artist - many of my friends were asking me to draw the designs for their tattoos. I was looking at them after the job was done and they came out terrible, the interpretation was bad. And I was thinking why the interpretation of my drawing can’t be the same as a tattoo… I was stubborn in a way and perhaps that gave me the push to start tattooing. That’s why when I saw Torres’s work I thought to myself that it’s close to what I want to my tattoos to look like and resembled some of my graffiti work. 

Can I assume that Carlos Torres is your role model?

I used to admire him a lot and I still appreciate him a lot. Evidently things have evolved since then and I have been in touch with the work of numerous tattooists. Back then I didn’t know anyone with this style in tattooing aside from Torres. Later on I discovered Hernandez, Portugal, Gogue, Bob Tyrel and many more.


How did you evolve?

In the beginning I wanted to learn to tattoo and I did everything. On a daily basis I was doing stars, diamonds, fairies, wizards, e.t.c.. Even in these I used to employ my knowledge, my ‘touch’. Regardless of my quick evolution in the field, I knew from the start what I wanted to do. Painting wise I already had my style from the graffiti and the freestyle pieces I was doing. With Ners and Jamer, we had influences from Mcfarlane type comics and from Brom. Every time we were going to a wall and we were doing them from our minds with no pattern, based on the academic knowledge the three of us had. Freestyle graffiti is the equivalent of freehand tattoo.

Though what I am doing is not exactly ‘tattoo’. I know how to tattoo, I know the rules well; the setup and the flow it needs to have on the body. The outlines that it requires to have, the appropriate colouring, the shadows, e.t.c. In my case it’s as if I were using the tools to get the results I want. Just as in graffiti you are going to go buy a spray and do street art. You don’t call that ‘graffiti’. However, you have used graffiti materials as a medium in order to create your piece.


What’s the range of your style at the moment?

I do Black & Grey with some elements from fantasy. The imprinting of an image exactly as it is and with all its shadows, intense contrasts and sometimes with horror references. I do a lot of portraits and since I no longer have the time to draw, I often use already existing realistic images as a source. The client will tell me what he wants and I will find an image that depicts the subject he wants, I will make a rough stencil, I will stick it on and while I am tattooing, the ideas will come to me. Meaning that he won’t see the pattern done on a piece of paper. There is trust from the client’s side. 

I have accepted the fact that realism is a tough business and especially in our country – with a great percentage of rather dark skinned people. That’s why I try to simplify the patterns as much as I can. Tattoo isn’t about taking a perfect picture, doing perfect details, covering it with whites, and in the end taking a picture of it and posting it on Facebook to get 8.000 likes. Tattoo is about finding a way to make the pattern stand in a way that when you see it after five, ten, fifteen years, it will still be standing right, even if it has lost a little of its original quality.

How do you “classify” Realism in relation with tattoo?

I believe that the total ‘logic’ and the style of realism aren’t included in the ‘classic’ notion of tattoo. The fact that I am using the needle on the skin is of course a crucial part of tattooing. I myself am trying to bring the realism I have in my mind as close to the real logic of tattoo as possible. I am interested in combining the basic principles of tattoo with the realism in painting. 

Realism itself has difficulties and particularities. Technique and knowledge are needed. Of course I am still learning and under no circumstances am I resting on my laurels. I always stress over the healing process and about how it is going to look later on and in the future. Although when it comes to the healing process, the responsibility isn’t only the artist’s but also the client’s, who has to look after his tattoo. As one of the most acknowledged and a personal favourite tattooist, Nick Baxter has said, ‘every accomplished artist that respects himself, will always blame the client’ (laughs).

How is this possible that something like that can be true and the ‘blame’ is always on the client? Isn’t it possible e.g. for the tattoo artist to be having a bad day and miss something?
No, this has nothing to do with it. I believe that the procedure of tattooing brings you to a state of Zen. Personally speaking, for me tattooing is the perfect cure to a hangover. For example, I might have gone out the previous night and gotten drunk and wake up the next morning and have my head weighing a hundred pounds up to the point where I set up the table. So the moment I start, I am there 100%. That’s the end of it.


For what reason do you (mostly) choose to solely do Black & Grey tattoos?

Mostly because I am ‘lazy’ (laughs). I can’t be bothered setting up a table and opening up countless lids with different tints. When in Black & Grey I’ll have four lids with four different tints of black. Another thing is the time. More precisely, a Black & Grey forearm can be done in four hours. The same pattern coloured can take up two sessions. It’s more immediate to me. Also, Black & Grey is suitable for the skin people have here. 

At this point, I also have a ‘complaint’. I am based in Greece and I’ve been tattooing for five years and I’ve reached a certain point. Your level is immediately connected to the type of skin you are tattooing. And then an artist from Russia or China comes where all the people are pale white and he does wonders after a year of practice, because apart from the talent, it’s also the canvas that helps. 

Due to the attention that tattoo is enjoying nowadays, how do you see the youngest artists who e.g. are graduating from high school and state that they will become tattoo artists?

If one is truly good at drawing and he has decided that as soon as he graduates he really wants to dedicate himself to tattooing, then good for him. I have nothing to say about that. And I am not ‘afraid’ of losing my place just because there are new artists and the competition grows. I am who I am, my work is what it is and whoever digs it when can cooperate. I have self-awareness and I like it when new people with talent in tattooing are joining the field, because that’s how the industry grows. What I don’t like is when something like that happens frivolously. Meaning that instead of going to a good studio and trying to get accepted and learn the world of tattoo correctly, he buys a tattoo machine and does whatever at home. I only refer to those who want to get involved seriously and professionally. Respectively I hope that the newbies will end up in good hands.


Do you think that the competition is intense in your field?

To the outsiders the competition seems intense, but to be honest it’s not so much. But since we live in Greece and the philosophy of the people who want a tattoo is outside the tattoo and thus they have no idea what is going on, the competition to them seems to be fierce because there are numerous studios. 

Which do you think is the milestone in your career so far?

Three years ago at the Athens tattoo convention, I found a man with high tolerance in “tattoo pain” and I created a piece exactly as I had pictured it within two consecutive days. Regardless of the fact that I won the ‘Best of Show’, what counts to me is that in sixteen hours I came through with the challenge and I was completely satisfied with the outcome. I did the same thing next year and the current year at the festival. 

Where would you like to be in five years?

I have no idea. I haven’t given it much thought. I am good here. I live in the present and all I care about is being okay today. I’ m not that concerned about tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the future in general.


How do you deal with the commercialization that exists in your field?

To be honest I don’t really like it. And this is one of the reasons why I am at Nico Tattoo where Nikos and Spyros have preserved a rock’n’roll and underground aspect of tattoo. Let’s not forget of course that a studio is a business and it does some commercial decisions in order to ‘sell’. But what I don’t like is the extravagance and the pure commercialization. 

Do you still do graffiti? Are you involved with any other form of art?

I am only focused on tattoo. I seldom do graffiti’s and the truth is that I have no time to do other things. In the past five years I have painted about ten canvases and that’s all.

How do you see the tattoo in Greece nowadays?

On one side it’s a positive fact that people are more open about getting a tattoo, and more and more are getting one, because people no longer point fingers on the street. On the other side I don’t like this whole thing happening, because even though more people want a tattoo but the real deal is what they want! It has for sure become a fashion statement, but it’s not logical to think ‘let’s go throw a tattoo on ourselves before we head out to the beach’ and so on.



Tattoo work photographs courtesy of Nico Tattoo Crew Athens.







































Ozone Fine Art