Artist Valeria Marinaci creates joyful, bright tattoos inspired by folk art traditions from around the world. We spoke to her about her inspirations, creative process and love of ceramics.
Were you always interested in pursuing tattooing as a career, and how did you get started as an artist?
I have always been interested in pursuing a career as an artist and since I was little I knew I wanted to do a job that would allow me to draw and be creative.
Tattooing was something I got to know from when I was in my early teens when I walked in a tattoo shop for the first time. It was around 2001 and I was with my older sister, she was getting her first piercing - I was immediately fascinated by all the flash on the walls and the artwork that was laying around in every corner.
A few years went by since that first experience and I understood that tattooing could have been my chance of working in a creative but not corporate environment with the possibility of traveling and meeting other artists.
It was in 2011 when I decided to move to the UK in order to find an apprenticeship - I started the year after that, in a street shop in Brighton and haven’t stopped since; it has been a great and unpredictable adventure so far!
Your work is very unique, and clearly inspired by folk art. Where did the inspiration for this style come from?
In reality I have never felt like I have an actual style. When I started tattooing I thought I’d want to focus on ‘traditional tattooing’, but I gradually moved away from that idea as I had an urge to seek inspiration from other art forms. I’m greatly influenced by visual art based on folk culture - popular tradition and naive art both embody a nod to the past that gives it that special vintage and romantic look I love so much. The folk art inspiration in my tattooing comes from a mixture of things - my love for Romani art, narrowboats decoration, Middle Eastern decorative art, embroidery patterns, Eastern European and Mediterranean traditional art. I never really planned what my tattooing style would look like, it kind of happened and developed over the years - I know it will keep changing so I’m always looking forward to seeing how things unfold as I keep drawing and painting.
Being from Sicily, how has your heritage informed your artwork?
I was born in Germany, my grandparents emigrated there from Sicily in the 60s - we moved back when I was 5, because of this I spent great part of my childhood and teenage years struggling to belong. Only once I moved abroad and gained some mental distance from home that i started feeling a strong connection with my culture. It’s funny how sometimes you need to leave a place in order to really appreciate it. Sicily has been influenced by loads of ethnic groups but also experienced periods of independence, this lead to a very unique mix of cultures that shaped the heritage we carry on to these days.
When I think of how my Sicilian heritage has shaped my visual language I can’t not think of the bold colours present in our folk art; just look at the ornate and colourful Sicilian carts, traditionally hand painted in the most brilliant colours. Same goes for the architectural style present in many of the main cities and smaller town, the Sicilian baroque - It’s a very flamboyant style, recognisable by its masks, curves and floral aspects. Talking about heritage however, I must add how the first years of my life in Germany have been important to my creative output. I can’t forget the folk art of the Christmas markets and hand painted furniture.
What inspired you to begin exploring ceramics?
I started working with clay about four and a half years ago; at the time I was eager to focus some of my energy on something outside of tattooing, a media that would allow me to experiment in total freedom. It only seemed natural to try working with clay, it began like something I was doing just for fun but very quickly I got totally absorbed. There is a deep connection with my heritage too, Sicily is very famous for its ceramics. Being surrounded by it growing up there, it means so much to me that now I can express myself through such materials often referencing my own culture.
Does creating ceramics allow for more creative freedom than tattooing?
100%! I feel really lucky my clients get tattooed by me because of my style and most times they are happy to follow my lead, but freedom in tattooing only goes to a certain point. Of course who wears the tattoo has a say in the creative process, the look of the design, as well as size and placement. But you also have to consider how the design flows with the body; there is a certain amount of freedom but it’s limited.
Ceramics on the other hand gives me all the space I need to express myself and just go with the flow of things. When I work with clay it’s just me and the ball of terracotta in front of me - most times there is no plan, I start working and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, I just start again! I find it incredibly therapeutic, I get lost in a mantra of coils and carry on, a bit like meditation.
When you’re not painting, tattooing or playing with clay, how do you spend your free time?
Free time is very little at the moment as I have just had a baby; it’s all breastfeeding and naps these days but I’m loving every minute of it. Outside of tattooing, painting and ceramics, I really love cooking. Being Sicilian means having a deep connection with food; I love studying family recipes and traditional Sicilian dishes and trying to replicate them at home. I often ask my mum and grandma about they’re recipes, I dream to have them all written down in a book one day!
You can see more of Valeria's ceramics and tattooing work on her instagram @valeriamarinaci and @folkstories.