Miki Vialetto

Extras - Issue 5

Miki Vialetto has been a household name in the tattoo international scene for the past twenty years. HeartbeatInk had the chance of meeting and interviewing him in New York City. Miki Vialetto organises the London Tattoo Convention and he publishes five different tattoo magazines (“Tattoo Life” is among them), tattoo yearbooks and books. This is the first time he speaks to a Greek medium.

When did you first get involved with the tattoo?

It was back in 1993, I was twenty two years old and at the time I had just finished social service; I was already getting tattooed by Gian Maurizio Fercioni and at the time I was going everywhere with my bike. At one point Gian Maurizio Fercioni suggested I visit an Italian publisher friend of his who used to publish “In Town” magazine. They would sometimes feature articles about body art so I suggested Ι do an article about bikers and tattoos in exchange for gas for my bike. And that was it. I started and after two articles I suggested he tart a tattoo magazine because in Europe there was absolutely nothing. The first magazine we started was “The Tattoo Revue”. Two years later we were already in four different languages in Europe. After three years we were also in America under the name “Tattoo Planet”. I have been the director almost since the beginning and in 2001, eight years later, he (the publisher) decided to retire. I then created my own publishing company “Mediafriend” and since then it has been continuous.

What drew you to the tattoo world in the first place?

I have loved tattoos since I was 12 years old. But I couldn’t draw and therefore I knew that I couldn't become a good tattooer. I could probably be a mediocre tattooer but I never wanted to be mediocre in anything I did. And so I created a tattoo magazine twenty years ago.

What do you still love the most after all these years?

I guess... the style of life that I was so lucky to have because of tattoo.

You have been active in the tattoo scene since the early 90's. How has it progressed since then?

It has progressed massively in good ways and also bad ways. The level of tattooing now is just amazing. You can do everything. It is recognized everywhere. Tattoo is a mainstream cultural thing and this is very positive. The other face of the coin is that it used to be something really magic for a few people and it has lost a lot of that magic...


How do you see the tattoo scene now? Has it gone global?

There is a globalization and the scene appears to be the same more or less everywhere. There aren't as many differences anymore between America and Europe as there used to be in the past. You can probably notice a few differences between some countries; for instance in France they love the comic style a lot, in Spain they are more into black and grey. However it is more or less the same.

Do you believe that there is perhaps a new style emerging nowadays?

No. Because even when you think about the dot work it's not a new style. Xed le Head has been doing it for eleven years. I guess that the problem is that there is not so much creativity and a lot of people are copying other people. So even if some say that dot work is now a new style, it is not a new style. We can say that there are new trends.

Who started dot work then?

One of the first was Xed le Head from England. Cory Ferguson from Canada has been doing it for many years. Also Jondix has been doing it a lot and sometimes Mike the Athens as well.

You mentioned Mike the Athens. What is your opinion about the Greek tattoo scene and its artists?

Mikes has been one of the best tattooers for the last twenty years and not just in Europe. One of Mike's first students Yorg is truly amazing. Both of them have been recognised worldwide for the great work that they do. Nowadays you have more and more great artists. I am talking about Alex (Gotza), Kostas (Tzikalagias), George Mavridis, Live2, Sake and his students. Many great artists are coming out of Greece.

What do you think about the tattoo culture in Greece?

I have helped the guys that organized the Greek tattoo convention by explaining to them how to do it. Actually, I suggested they do it in the first place. I am so proud of them because they did such an amazing job. I was there last year (2012) and I was so surprised because in 2007 the level of work looked like Italy or Spain some years before. Now there are so many people, so many enthusiasts and the level is exactly like any other tattoo convention. You have caught up very quickly.


Are there any other countries from which talented tattoo artists have emerged over the last years?

Eastern countries. They have many great artists emerging. Even though they are doing almost the same thing; it is all realistic and it looks similar. We have Poland and Hungary where they use a lot of colour and their style is influenced by Boris; he has been a great master for them. And then there are more North Eastern countries like Lithuania and Russia where they do great realistic tattoos.  But it all looks the same.

When it comes to realistic tattoos, how are those tattoos going to look in the future?

It depends. If you see a tattoo by Nikko Hurtado you can tell that in ten years it is going to look totally the same. On the other hand you come across tattoos that look like an ugly pizza in five – six years. The fact is that there are many people that just copy like a copy machine but they don't understand because some of them are very young; and therefore they don't understand the technique of tattooing. And so many people don't use black and that's why everything would gradually fade. And that's why Nikko’s (Hurtado) work will look the same. Robert Hernandez is also doing realism and his tattoos will look exactly the same because the amount of black inside the technique is different than in many others.

You have mentioned the age factor. In your opinion does experience count more than other things?

Of course. Only with time can you understand how you have messed up your technique; when you see your work after three, four or five years. Then you will understand why it faded, what you did wrong and how you will correct it. That works the same for everybody. I remember the first works of Robert Hernandez; they were faded a lot because there wasn't enough contrast. Same thing with Paul Booth. He was amazing from the start when it came to designing. However, in the beginning of his career twenty years ago, some of the tattoos he did back then looked grey after five years. Afterwards, perhaps due to his experience with Filip Leu, he changed totally and now his work is simply amazing.

Nowadays we come across people that graduate from the School of Arts and they become tattoo artists. How has this fact affected the level of tattooing?

As a result there is a higher level of tattooing. Twenty years ago tattooing used to attract only a certain kind of people. Now it attracts everybody. The fact that it attracts people from the School of Arts is a good aspect. Unfortunately, it also attracts unemployed people that start to tattoo just because it is cheap to start and they think they can make easy money. This is a bad thing. Even if it is great as a total, the level is basically the same. You go to any beach in Europe and all around you see everybody with tattoos but 90% of the work is total crap.

Tattoo became a major business. Therefore, everybody now is doing tattoo magazines, tattoo blogs, opens a facebook page in order to share other people's stuff and lots of them don't even know about tattooing. In the past, any tattoo magazine you would come across, the people behind it, like the people behind “Tätowier” magazine for instance, were trying to give everything they could. Now the majority doesn't give a damn about anything. They just do it for the money. They just take a photo, put a text, buy a good cover from a photographer and that's it. So it makes it very difficult for a young person to find the right way to learn the wright things. All those magazines speak about lifestyle but they don't speak about art. They show a beautiful model, actor and etc with bad tattoos. And unfortunately young kids would probably think that this is a good tattoo. They will go to their neighbour who works at home and for forty euros they would get a tattoo with more or less the same quality of the tattoos of the last rapper they saw, for instance, in some magazine. And that's why there is so much bad work around. And no, I don't think it will improve unfortunately.

Do you also tend to use “hot” models for your magazine covers?

I am not a hypocrite, so when you think about the covers it's more about the photo, the model and everything else. But it is one thing to make a cover and one hundred pages of great tattoos and another thing to make one hundred pages of great photos with bad tattoos. These are different things.


What about your tattoos? Which artists have given them to you?

I have been more than 80% tattooed by Filip Leu. The rest of my tattoos are done by many different artists. I have 90% of my body covered. The only parts that I don't have tattoos are my head, my neck and my face.

Why is that?

Because I have learned respect from tattooing and you should “serve” in order to get your head and neck tattooed. That's why I am still waiting. They are the last parts I would ever tattoo.

You talk with great respect about tattoos...

I respect and love tattoos and that is why I am still here after twenty years. That's why I can do a tattoo convention like London's and publish all these books and have all this support.

Everything I do I always try to give it back to the tattoo world. I have been living the best life possible for the last twenty years thanks to tattoo. I travel all around the world thanks to tattooing; I have a gorgeous life. So instead of only taking, I try to give back. It cleanses my karma.

Interview & photo by Ino Mei.