Waves of energy going through the body. Mandalas as powerful as ancient incantations. To Chaim Machlev, tattooing is a highly spiritual experience. And his trajectory as an artist is as fascinating as he is passionnate about tattoos.
Lire l’interview en français ici.
What kind of kid were you ?
I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. I moved to Berlin 5 years ago to learn how to tattoo. I had a pretty normal childhood. I was not a popular child at all and I spent most of my childhood in front of my computer.
I never had any artistic background, never created art (beside playing a guitar as a hobby), and for sure nothing that had to do with drawing or tattooing.
What did your first tattoos looked like ?
My first tattoo was on a friend that was kind enough to let me practice on her. I did a little sea star that looked actually pretty good.
My second tattoo was horrible actually. It is funny to talk about the first approach to tattooing because when it comes to reality, and you hold your tattoo machine for the first time in your hand and aim it towards someone, you don’t really know where to gain the confident to actually do it. So you really find yourself trusting just your instincts.
What was the first tattoo you got for yourself ?
In fact I was not attracted to tattoos so much before I started to think about getting one… which is something I can’t really explain why.
Tattooing, in a lot of social circles, get connected with drugs, crime, and many other negative aspects. In my home country, it is like that. But I have to say that there is a huge movement at the moment of tattooed people in Tel Aviv, which is really opening people’s eyes to it.
When you get your first tattoo, you no longer have those prejudice, as you understand the beauty of deciding to change your body and let someone do it. Then the distance to get another tattoo is shorter. And this is exactly the reason that many non-tattooed people thinks that tattooing is addictive.
I got my first tattoo 6 years ago from Avi Vanunu, in Psycho studio, in Tel Aviv. It had the strongest impact on my life, as I found the procedure super spiritual and life changing.
How so ?
I’m still trying to understand it, but I guess that when I lost the negative contact towards tattooing which i had, I lost a lot of negative prejudices I had inside me towards other stuff that society choose to see as wrong or unacceptable.
Actually, tattooing was so life changing, you decided to leave Tel Aviv for Berlin !
At some point, I couldn’t stop thinking about tattoos. I started to see it in my dreams, in every person that I saw, I thought about lines that went through their bodies and how interesting it could be to actually be the tattooer that decides which lines flows better on a body. I wanted to dedicate my life to live the experience of changing people’s body as a routine.
Back then I was a project manager in an IT company, in charge of 22 workers and had a pretty confortable life, from the materialistic point of view. As the thoughts about tattoos could not let me go, I decided to get another tattoo to have a better understanding of the process. After this second tattoo it was clear to me that some action needed to be taken.
So I left to the desert to make a decision. After five days on my own, I decided to dedicate my life to that philosophical/spirtual point of understanding what is so special about tattoos, and decided to be a tattoo artist.
That’s when you moved to Berlin…
I’d never been there before, but I had a good feeling about the place, and to take the chances to learn how to be a tattoo artist there seemed more realistic than in Israel. I sold everything I ever had and landed in Berlin searching for the opportunity of an open door…
Landing in Berlin was easy. Finding a place to live and a shop that will take me was very hard. I was couchsurfing for three months. After finding a place to live, I looked for a shop. I run into so many different people and artists, but most of their answers were negative. I didn’t have a portfolio or an experience in drawing, just a lot of motivation and a lot of hope. Finally I found a place that allow me to have my little room in the back. So I practiced on punks that didn’t care how their tattoos would look like. I guess that they didn’t really believe that I will succeed as a tattooist but they really couldn’t resist my motivation.
After two months of practice I felt more confident with my tattoo machines and started to get my own clients. I remember that I felt connected to some ancient subconscious that was living in me for years.
In which conditions do you tattoo ?
I always had a little problem with tattooing in front of people, as I think it is a very intimate process. The experience of getting tattooed raise a lot of feelings : pain, happiness, satisfaction, trust, hope, love, hate. So it has to be as intimate as possible. This is why it is hard for me to go to conventions, or to tattoo in front of people.
How involve are your clients in the creative process ?
I make my designs according to the body structure of my clients. I can’t ever make a sketch before, because it could look pretty nice on the paper but wouldn’t fit the body as I don’t see most of my clients before because most of them are travelling to see me.
My studio is located in Berlin. It is private, which means that there is just one person at the time there. I don’t take « walk ins » and tattoo one person a day. I think that it is impossible to tattoo more than one person a day as a tattoo artist that tries to go through a spiritual experience with the client and to create something positive out of it from the psychological aspect as well as from the creation aspect.
The more open minded the client is, the better. The creations that I love the most are the ones that I created on people that actually came without any idea of what they want to get but with a strong will to get tattooed by me.
How would you define your style as a tattoo artist ?
I do a lot of free handed tattoos, most of the lines art design. The process of designing is sometimes longer than the tattooing process itself.
It is sometimes very hard to find the right lines that floats through the body, specially when we talk about geometric designs. Our body is not symmetric. So to try to put a symmetrical design on a non symmetrical object, most of the time ends up looking like a sticker. If you choose to deal with geometric designs it has to be the right size, the right place and the right movement. Otherwise it is simply not going to work.
I would love to experience more art mediums like drawing and sculpting but I simply have no time as tattooing takes 14 hours of my day and I enjoy every second of it.
Looks like you are totally devoted to your art.
I understood pretty quick that there is no other way to learn tattooing than to really dedicate yourself to it, so I really choosed to destroy the border between me and my customers completely and to make it as intimate as possible and as effective as possible.
I never tattoo the same design. I don’t tattoo when I don’t feel a positive connection to the customer, I don’t make designs before, I do everything with my clients as they have to take an active part in the tattooing process.
To me, the problem in the art world is that there are a lot of artists which enjoy the title of being an artist much more than actually fulfil their duty as an artist and develop themself which is a never ending process.
Do you have other goals you would like to achieve ?
As I never had any art education I can’t really draw as efficiently as other tattoo artists do. So I cover that with a lot of computerised designs that I make with passion.
But I would love to develop my drawing skills by doing more organic motives like animals and buddhistic figures. Those designs works amazingly well with geometric forms and patterns.
Is it hard for you to try to defined your style ?
Yes. As weird and minimalistic as this style is, it is like it is being asked not to be categorised into a certain conventional style pattern.
I could say that I have that split into my designs, just like in my personality : I make those art minimalistic lines – the computer kid inside me, and very detailed mandalas – the spiritual man inside me.
Does everybody will be tattooed in the future ?
I get a lot of requests from people that never had been tattooed before and always wanted a tattoo, and from people who never wanted a tattoo and were afraid of it. Most of them saw my work on line and liked it, as, in their opinion, it is not the same pattern as tattooing is. They see it more as an art form than as the conventional tattoo. This is what makes me love tattooing more and more : when I succeed to open more and more people to tattooing.
When you ask people about tattoos, the first things they think about are skulls, roses and anchors. So I think it is really necessary to show and to talk as much as possible about modern-undefined-categoriylessly-tattooing because, as much modern as it is, it is closer to the source of tattooing with its aim. And that’s my trigger when writing this interview : to open as many people’s eyes on the beauty art of tattooing.
You’re doing it just perfectly. Any last words ?
My little problem is that I am a really shy person. Another reason that I choose to give interviews is that there are some interesting aspects in my story that people could relate to emotionally.
I know how hard it is to learn how to tattoo, but it’s possible. It don’t necessarily have to be throught a hard years of apprenticeship. It is more about how you really want it and how much you are willing to sacrifice for it. Actually, just like every dream that we people have. We dream of something, but most of us think that it is too impossible to achieve, so we give up before even trying.
If I do manage to be a tattoo artist that people actually travel to get tattooed from, it means everyone can be whatever they want. You just have to dream and to fight for it. If not fighting for your on dreams, what will you fight for ?
05/31/2016 – Email interview by Christophe Chadefaud