Lionel Fahy is a French tattooist who travels the world inking those that are open minded, creative, and discerning enough to have heard of his incredible work. A day before he completed his last residency in Nine Tattoo in the heart of Brighton, his last residency for a while due to his plans to pursue other creative endeavors, the two of us enjoyed lemonade and limes and a chat about tattoos, music, and pottery. Oh yeah, and the day before he completed my chest piece! Lionel’s English is very good; he speaks with a very broad, thick French accent. I’ve tried to preserve as much as possible his idiosyncratic use of expression, so in parts the transcript reads a little like a stream of consciousness and some turns of phrase might read a little strangely, but i’m sure you’ll get the idea! Danny: You said [earlier] that sometimes you don’t enjoy the actual act of tattooing, or that it’s hard for you to appreciate your work. Can you elaborate on that? Lionel: The tattoo process is something very strong. You have to focus on your project, on your design, and every line is there for a lifetime, so it’s not relaxing at all. When it’s done I rarely have an opinion on what I’ve done because it’s not my design anymore, which is why I said it takes a few days to appreciate and rediscover the work I’ve done. That’s why I take all the pictures. So it’s not exactly what you say, but more or less. It’s just so much pressure you that start to feel empty after [the tattoo] it’s done and you need a few days to see what you did and have an opinion. I know it’s a broad question, but how did you get into tattooing? Well... [and here Lionel smiles a very broad smile] with some alcohol...and some friends...really drunken, tattooing by hand in the kitchen, It was really fucked up! So I stopped doing that because, trust me I was 15. I was really into tattoos but as I’m not from england the scene was very different at the time. It wasn’t long before I discovered tattooing in England; there were tattoo shops everywhere! Where I come from in France is a very industrial city with lots of people coming from egypt, tunisia, and i’d see them at the market with my grandma. Lots of women in the early 70s with facial tattoos, medicinal tattoos. So I’ve been seeing tattoos since I was very young. The thing is, in my family, tattooing was frowned upon because I came from a very catholic family so tattoos were associated with criminals and the legionnaires. So even for me, when i wanted to get a tattoo done I couldn’t find anything I liked because the designs I saw were usually from America, like from biker magazines. I didn’t like the subjects but I was amazed by the idea of a drawing on a skin, a living drawing as opposed to just being on some shit paper, so i was very attracted to that. So, before I was a professional tattooist i was a musician. I was touring a lot around Europe and Canada. I did that for 11 years, and everywhere I went to do a concert I ended up in tattoo shops! Then I started to make contacts with those people; it’s funny because when I was in the czech republic, I met the first people doing it and saw the first shops opening. One day I was rehearsing with a band, for a special concert, two bands on stage, some of the guys had tattoos on them and they introduced me to the guy who tattooed them, he was a very old-timer. After a while he agreed to show me serialization, then he agreed to show me how to solder needles, the nto tattoo myself, then tattoo some other guys, then he said Then he agreed to kick me out! He said if you really want to tattoo you have to go and do it. That was a big mistake though because after that It took me years and years to learn by myself. The internet didn’t exist so you needed the agreement of an old timer or something to have your own stuff, so very very hard but I was very serious about it because I loved it so much. As you’ve said, you travel around a lot. Brighton, The Czech Republic, Germany, NZ, Canada; what’s the inspiration behind that? I was on the road for 11 years, the house I’m living in now is my 18th! So when I stopped music it was because I wanted to focus on myself and the tattoo scene. I was bored woth the fact I was managing lots of people, I was organising the tours for big bands in europe and I was bored with taking care of everyone. I’ve tried to be a sedentary guy, and for the first time in my life I opened my own shop, then after 6 months It was closed and I had gone away! Then I joined another shop and I stayed for a year. I felt really depressed because I was in a street shop and it was like I was lying to my customers for my boss. My boss was like ‘why do you spend time talking to people about the design’ and I felt really bad about it, so I opened my own shop again, ‘Out Of Step’. I stayed a year and a half and then my wife said: “Go travelling, you’re too annoying and boring!” I tried to be a nice normal guy, but it’s not for me. It’s all about the traveling! I feel really depressed if I stay too long in one place. So nowadays I’m touring like I did 20 years ago! I know it’s not for everybody, but for me it’s very refreshing because people are so different in other countries. England and Germany have great tattoo histories...anywhere you go people are coming to you for tattoos from different perspectives. You’ve got a very unique style. Do you find that people who have booked an appointment with you are on the same wave length and understand your philosophy? Yeah the philosophy is very universal now. With my work, people either really love it or hate it, no inbetween. Like marmite. Yeah... the thing is, nowadays I’m very lucky because everyone for years was spitting on my work, but now it’s ok because I work a lot, travel a lot, and I just go for it. No one complains and I don’t worry that nobody likes me! I’m really lucky because my customers are some of the most open minded you could have. All my partners and tattooists I work with are always amazed, saying ‘where do they come from!?’ I think they come from everywhere! They’re really into tattoos but they hate what they see. They come to me for that reason. We spend a lot of time understanding the concept, talking and I have to try and express the story of someone, more like an illustration than a tattoo. it’s hard because of the accents and my bad english. I’d say your english was pretty good! It’s so important that you can trust your tattooist...do you find that people are prepared to just hand over control? Yes and no but you should never trust your tattooist to the end. I mean...to make something very unique, whatever the style, you must have an exchange. An exchange about the project, design, technique so to me i really have to make something for someone but they have to give me a lot of feedback. If they say do whatever you want, I don’t want to do anything, because it’s too much responsibility. People say to me sometimes ‘other tattooists don’t say so much’ but it’s important because I don’t do it for me, I have to go in the direction of the person. Then we can do some very strange stuff, some very weird. I never try and convince someone to do something. Good! I’ve been looking at your portfolio online, and it seems your style varies from country to country. In England your style is very colourful and innocent, in Germany and France lots of black work. How does the public psyche change from country to country? In france, lots of black work, there’s such a big scene for it. I’ve got a friend in Canada, Jan, who left and wanted me to finish lots of blackwork for him too. We’ve been known for that in France, a very specific scratchy stuff. And it gets copied a lot, even now. And that’s why I try to stay away from that, ‘out of step’ again, go back to solid, broad lines and using colour and just saying ‘fuck off’ because it’s always the same story. You start to do something then people use that to make something interesting and some people are just taking your work and making money with that. So I don’t play the game, so much is copied, so now I stay away from that. Blackwork is fine but I wouldn’t want to do it every day. I think about the colour, Czech republic is really crazy. They just go for it. In England culturally you’re using lots of colours, so I get to use some, I like it. For the rest, people see something so they just go to a shop near their house and ask for a copy or come to the tattooist and show some work and you say ‘yeah....I like that!’ That’s why I have to put up some more pictures because people would always show the same work and I was so stupid, thinking I have to put up some more pictures! So, what’s your next goal? What would you most like to be doing next? I have some very precise plans. I’m about to stop working, I’ve retreated! Forever?! No, one week per month in Paris, the rest in my town. I have a family behind that I want to see more, i have a little project i’m working hard for, a book. I’ve started to make some printings, I also make some tattoo machines by myself for some friends, so I design everything and engrave them one by one. So it’s lots of work. So i use the trips, if people want to come it’s very easy, flights are very cheap, Ryan-air! So I will do work, but I have some other projects i really want to do. Especially the book that’s nearly finished. It’s like a road-trip. A combination of about 1000 drawings I’ve done all over the road, in airports, train stations, in tattoo shops. Like a tattoo flash book, that you can use. I’ve started to make some pottery with my drawings on, with a girl in Italy, She made 10 of them, very nice, so hopefully In september i’ll go over engrave all of them So just doing some small series, being a little bit away from the tattoo to figure myself out a bit more, but tattoo is a massive pat of my life. But I need some breaks to spend time with my children, going to the seaside, doing nothing, drawing, finding myself for new projects instead of repeating repeating repeating. That’s the most dangerous side of my work. Then someone comes to me and says ‘oh like flowers...’ I have to find a new direction and a new way to do them! So those are the next plans. It’s not nothing, but not too much in the tattoo shops. When i’m back it’s always a big rush. Lots of admin, it’s hard to find the time, and for sure it’s not relaxed at all. I’m like ‘fuuuck...’ but I do my best. Every day is running. We are a very creative shop, around 8 of us on two floors, very chaotic, we do some very creative, specific work. It’s very crazy [makes crazy noise!] I couldn’t work there for a year, but just being 6 or 7 days is very nice, because people are doing very different things, and there is a very big energy in that shop, you can’t be lazy, it’s impossible. And then tattoo conventions I have to do. Lots of work like that. Awesome. Well that about wraps it up! www.myspace.com/outofsteptattoo Http://el.fahy.free.fr www.myspace.com/7079tattoomachines