By VITTORIA BENZINE, January 2021
March 2020 marked a major ‘do or die’ moment for an entire generation of creators, all suddenly forced to rework their practices to accommodate global lockdowns. World-renowned tattoo artist Filip Fabian shouldered the loss immediately when Black and Blue Tattoo, the San Francisco shop where he’s in residence, shuttered its doors. Still, the success story refused defeat. He’d fought too hard for his craft.
Fabian’s profile with Black and Blue outlines how he acquired the grit necessary to withstand hardship. Fabian hails from a hardscrabble family based in a small town near Kosice, Slovakia. Today, at the spry age of 29 years old, time and pressure have transformed his raw talent into something even more precious — a diamond in the rough.
“Thirteen years ago he bought his first tattoo machine for $20 from eBay,” his profile recounts. “That machine fell apart in his hands while he was doing his first piece on himself in the room he shared with his younger brother.” Another article from Scene 360 explains that Fabian came into the craft “because of his cousin, who had a tattoo studio.” The intoxication he found in tattoo gun and ink sustained his fight. “With practice, better tools, apprenticeships, and many guest spots, he became a professional in 2010,” Scene 360 continues.
Today, Fabian’s talents have graced cultural centers around the world, covering ground in London, Berlin, and Barcelona. He’s held residencies at global tattoo institutions like Tribo Tattoo & Piercing in Prague and Kaleidoscope Studio in Bondi Beach, Sydney.
Where the fine art world has been able to cobble along with online exhibitions and live streamed panel discussions, tattoo shops are another matter. This art form absolutely requires the artist’s physical presence, the unbridled contact between ink and skin. There’s a particular intimacy to this craft which borders the spiritual. I can testify to its magic personally.
I was straight-edge until I started drinking at fifteen. Before then, I’d vowed to never swear, never indulge in drugs, and certainly to never tarnish my body with tattoos. Alcoholism robbed me of my pretensions until I finally shook free from its grasp at 22. Armed with the clarity and openness that experience provides, I began toying with the idea of a traditional tiger tattoo on my right shoulder blade, a monument to the heavier, more solid jungle cat stride sobriety provided.
It wasn’t until I approached my sobriety’s eighteen month milestone in March 2020 that my impending tattoo gained a fortuitous sense of urgency. I made my appointment for March 4th. That day, the artist set to immortalize my tiger energy called off work. In turn, for reasons I now attribute to intuition, I called the shop owner and told him I still needed it done that day. The substitute artist stayed three hours past closing time, but his final product proved more magical than my fantasies had hoped.
When the world shut down just one week later, I marveled upon the ten inch work of art embedded into my very being. Strangely, it made the vessel feel more mine. What’s more, I felt the big cat’s energy entangle with my own in a manner I never anticipated. This lent me strength as I joined the societal descent into uncertainty.
Fabian’s craft requires every ounce the artistic prowess expected of those who work in more traditional media. Tattoo artists must marry imagination and technical ability. Those who make the medium an art more than a simple act do so with an informed stance on art history that enables them to provide clients with bespoke creations that’ll last for life. Rather than practicing their art in the studio, tattoo artists practice it in the prolonged presence of their clients, using bodies as canvas, coping with nerves and fears and even excessive curiosity.
Establishing an innovative, standalone style can lead skilled tattoo artists into the realm of celebrity where diehard fans vie for limited appointments. Much like any art commission, collaborating with the correct creator makes all the difference. Throughout his meteoric rise over the past decade, Fabian has explored and honed his own visual language, dodging the cliches that dominate his industry.
Scene 360 posits that Fabian first encountered elements of his present style while studying at the Technical University of Kosice, where he grew fascinated with analogous artistic legends Mark Rothko and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Pitted against each other, these two artists strike a dichotomy at first. The former works in soft, shapeless color fields while the latter boasts notoriety for his frenzied, revolutionary scratch marks. Art history regards both Rothko and Basquiat as trailblazers who questioned and innovated upon what society could consider art.
These inspirations gave rise to the sensibilities that define Fabian’s distinct touch. His work often centers around wildlife, flora, and fauna, motifs present throughout tattoo history. However, Fabian deconstructs these figures’ hard borders, allowing them an emotive fluidity only emphasized by his watercolor accents — rich splotches of color like spilt serendipity.
Fabian nourishes a deep respect for the profundity surrounding each tattoo. In the piece by Scene 360, Fabian remarks, “I love anatomy, geometry, and forms that blend into the abstract without losing their meaning.” His focus on substance proves cathartic for all parties involved. “Filip also specializes in working with damaged areas of the skin, such as keloid scars,” writes iNKPPL Tattoo Magazine. “His work helps a person not only to forget about an unpleasant moment of life, but also to breathe new life into old scars, [filling] them with pure art.”
Several outlets have already reported on the boom faced by re-opening tattoo parlors, even in the wake of diminished capacities and increased safety measures. To an extent, this is the result of backlogged appointments. However, the trend also indicates an onslaught of inner-revelations, healing in their own right. The decision to get a new tattoo requires conviction on several levels — a concrete knowledge of what one wants represented on their body and a concrete resolution to seize the moment and make it real. Both are potential outcomes of the contemplation many were forced to complete in quarantine.
For Fabian, there is only one conviction: the drive to keep practicing his craft safely, at any cost. “Success has many faces, but what made Filip's story exceptional is that he worked his way through all these obstacles while perfecting his style on the way,” his profile at Black and Blue concludes. “Now I’m booked until January at least, which I’m thankful for,” Fabian said in a November 2020 interview with SFGATE — at present, he’s booked through May. “Tattooing is the only job I’ve ever done in my life. I couldn’t imagine doing something else.” With a drive and artistic ingenuity like his, it’s apparent he won’t ever have to. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
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