Tas Danazoglou

Artists - Studios - Issue 6

The charismatic and one of a kind Tas Danazoglou spoke exclusively to HeartbeatInk, while tattooing at his booth at London's “Into You” Tattoo Studio, about the art of the tattoo with absolute honesty and humour.

When did you first get involved with tattooing?

Twenty years ago, when I was 22 years old I began as an apprentice of Mike the Athens. Actually, Mike taught me everything I know. I still feel like Mike’s apprentice (laughs), because he is a such a perfectionist and even now calls me and tells me “what you did wasn’t that good, you have to do it like this”. He is also one of my best friends. We are like brothers.


What were you doing previously?

I was a radiologist’s assistant.

How did drawing come into the picture?

I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. My father was an amateur painter. Perhaps I was influenced by him. But yes, I definitely drew. 

How did the transition from drawing to tattooing happen?

It's kind of funny. Mike was my tattoo artist and because he likes music I used to record cassettes for him with death metal bands (I think he still has them) and I would paint their covers. At some point, after seeing my designs, he asked me to become his apprentice. I had never thought I would become a tatooer… 

How did your journey as a tattoo artist evolve?

After seven years with Mike, I went to Cyprus and worked there for three years. After that, I started travelling. I made a passing through Belgium at Daniel Di Mattia (Calypso Tattoo). Afterwards, I went to Germany and ended up in Spain working at LTW tattoo studio in Barcelona for the next seven years. After that I went back to Cyprus for one more year, to help my friend Christ when he opened his shop. After Cyprus I came to London and have been working at “Into You” ever since. Its already been seven years.


Has your relationship with music influenced your tattooing?

In reality, if you think about it, everything has an influence and when talking about the arts, one form influences and is influenced by the other. However, I differentiate the tattoo from music. Specifically I have liked “extreme” music since I was a child, like heavy metal, death metal and hardcore. I see the tattoo as something special. When it comes to tattoos I like Oriental themes and traditional Tribal ones from various tribes. I have never done tattoos in Paul Booth’s style, which I also think are crap.

Which bands have you been a member of?

In Athens I played for some “children’s” bands (laughs) which weren’t that bad. My first band was “Porfyria” in 1988. Afterwards I was in “New Jack” and we did a lot of concerts. I then was a bass player for “Electric Wizard” for three years. Now I have formed a band which is a little bit different from the previous ones. Its called “Satan’s Wrath” and we play death metal.

I thought you played black metal…

The boundaries between death and black metal are not that distinguishable. Also, my generation never used the term black metal except for Venom. Anything sounding similar, from Slayer to Possessed, we called it death metal. Black metal later became fashionable with the Norwegians.


You mentioned the term “fashionable”. In your opinion, are tattoos fashionable nowadays?

Everything has become fashionable, not just tattoos. Something becomes fashionable, but then again what is fashion? Isn't it the social movement of the time that is influenced by all the trends surrounding it? Especially when it comes to the tattoo, it is difficult to call it fashionable. Yes, there are those who have one or two small tattoos but then you get those who fill their bodies with them, have back-pieces or sleeves. You can’t easily call that fashion, because tattoos to such an extent show great dedication. Times are different now too. In the past, especially in Greece, people saw a sleeve and thought it was awfully extreme. Now even a pop singer can have a sleeve.

Do you think that such a sleeve maintains or loses part of its artistic value?

The value of a tattoo clearly depends on the tattoo artist. The truth is that most clients, even if they are tattoo connoisseurs, are in the hands of the artist. Basically, the artist chooses the final result. Coming back to the pops singers, unfortunately, they wont have good enough taste to go to Mike and Yorg for example. Ony by coincidence!


Do you notice people that are “worn” by their tattoos?

That is due to lack of personality. For example, a tattooist who is authentic as a person, is usually also covered in crap. That is what happens on the spot. Whoever he becomes slightly friends with, even if the aren’t such good tattooists, he will say “gimme a tattoo”, just for the keepsake. While on the other hand, there are those who are completely plastic with no personality and they go and “buy a suit” from Filip Leu like they would buy a suit from Armani. They have no culture. 

So you believe that even crap tattoos have a reason to exist?

Yes, they are good and sometimes they are even better than the good ones. They posses a certain “badassness”…

Which is the “weirdest” tattoo you have ever been asked to do?

I don’t really do that many weird ones because usually people come to me for a  specific thematology. Therefore I don’t do tattoos outside my style, which is Oriental. I don’t get asked things like “I want a frog with a vampire on its head exiting a fridge”.


What is your style now?

Now it is only Oriental. In the past, when I started with Mike, I did Tribals from Borneo, Polynesia etc. But I gradually got bored. A few years afterwards I began a different style, I think Alex Binnie had started it first and then I changed it a bit myself. It is like doing geometric shapes using grey as well and not just black. Then I got bored of that too (laughs) and I have been doing exclusively Oriental tattoos for the past 6 years. Not very many years if you think about it, as this is one of the most difficult and demanding tattoo styles.

In what way do you characterise Oriental tattooing difficult and demanding?

I mean the technique, the aesthetics and the culture you must have. This is also one of the most important things about Mike and that’s why he outclasses many artists on global level. He has the aesthetics and the culture which is behind the design and supports the design. This is something very few artists have. Someone listening to hip hop , for example, and has no knowledge of Asian cultures or philosophies, is most likely to do a soulless Oriental tattoo.

What is your relationship with Oriental culture?

Lately I have had many arguments and have no relationships with any cultures (laughs). I am hypoculture (lots of laughs). I have always been charmed by Asian culture: from the philosophy to the themes and iconography. Of course I am kind of saturated with this as well… But I am still not bored of the iconography.


If I am not mistaken, you use more colour compared to past years?

That’s right, I use a lot of colour now. Not like Mike. He still holds the fort and refuses (laughs). And he acts wisely.

Why does Mike refuse to use colour?

He doesn’t really like it. He considers it to be more commercial. And he is right. What I am trying to achieve when, for example, I have a sleeve to do and the subjects are coloured, is to add as much background as I can so that it has a lot of black and grey therefore creating more contrast.  Lately you see a lot of artists that do colour sleeves and black-pieces and because the subjects are so big and there is no room for background, you just end up looking at one colour everywhere. It is a matter of aesthetics. That is why Japanese tattoos are so successful, because they have a lot of background. Thus, the main subject with the colour, stands out immediately, because of the contrast. Flooding the entire tattoo with colour and reducing the background, you weaken the main subject. Aesthetically it seems wrong to me. 


What do you think of the Greek tattoo scene nowadays?

I cannot form an opinion. It’s been many years since I left Athens and I don’t have an idea of what is been going on... I have a sense that the only two artists that have quality and have an understanding of what they are doing, are still Mike and Yorg, who are both awesome tattooers. There might be something remarkable out there that I haven’t come across.

How is the tattoo scene here in London? 

It’s about the same here as well. Whoever thinks that they will come to London and find the artists of the century, are going to be rather disappointed. In any country you go to, the good artists are few. Even in the U.S.A, which is a huge country, most of them suck. They may be good at their technique, but aesthetically they are crap.


So what is the most important thing when it comes to tattooing?

Horiyoshi III said that the most important thing in tattooing is the perception of design. If your design is good, technique comes second. If you think about it, it’s very much right, because even if you have the best technique, if the design is incorrect, the tattoo won’t be successful.  A really good design done technically average, will look good. Then you have to know how to modify the body and how to place the pattern. The personality of the tattoo artist matters a lot of course, something that is rare to find nowadays. Filip Leu is not only about technique, it’s his whole personality that makes his tattoos come off so amazing. If you observe the latest tattoos of Horiyoshi III up close, they are rough. However, the result is divine. 

Is there still magic in the tattoo?

Of course there is magic. From very few artists and again due to personality related reasons. On the other side, there are those who destroy the magic. With the way they think, the patterns they produce, the fact that they don’t listen to what the client wants and they are not humble at all, like some ridiculous dudes that do those TV shows and talk only about money! Why should I care about what car is he driving? If you ever talk with Filip, he won’t talk to you about anything else but tattooing. Whichever topic you may switch the conversation to, he will switch it back to tattooing within twenty minutes. Sooner or later, all of us will die, and the money, the cars and the houses, will stay behind because you cannot take them with you. Meanwhile they are going to be remembered in history as crap tattooists. It’s what the ancient Greeks used to call “posthumous fame”. 


Have you ever had an apprentice?

I wouldn’t say so. They only one I helped a bit because we are good friends is Jondix. I don’t think of him as my apprentice. I believe I taught him the basics and Mike showed him the more sophisticated, the more “hidden” secrets of the art of tattooing. Mike showed him all these things because I haven’t learnt them yet (laughs). 


Photos & interview by Ino Mei.