Artist Highlight: Aleksy Marcinow

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We explored the technicolor world of artist Aleksy Marcinow, who works out of London, Warsaw and Germany. His striking and unique tattoo style certainly stands out in the crowd, and he has an equally unique lifestyle to match...

You grew up in Poland, moved to London, and have also lived in Germany. Has moving around a lot allowed you to draw inspiration from different cultures and art scenes?

Yeah moving around surely widened my horizons. Being able to constantly check up on ongoing exhibitions in different countries definitely helps. One week in the Tate modern, next week in Paris in Pompidou. Sure thing you can check things online but it’s not the same. Like comparing paper to iPad.

So it’s the same working with customers; you have different vibes with customers working in Barcelona comparing to, for example, Magdeburg. 

I’m not a fan of conventions and never was, but probably my favourite one was in Kuala Lumpur, think it was called Wayang Kulit tattoo show. So I ended up having lizards staring at me while going out for a cigarette. It was amazing, so much better compared to the European conventions that always have the same shit (of course there are exceptions like sorry mom tattoo fest in Braunschweig) like a fire show so it’s not impressive at all, few Cadillacs and motorbikes or some local rapper concert afterwards. 

So fuck yeah traveling helps! 

Your style of tattooing uses many textures and techniques combined in each piece, where did this approach come from?

Tattooing is sooo limiting, when it comes to the medium and tools and so on. Like when you paint at the end of the day you can even stick an actual chair to a canvas, spill some stuff over it, bury it and see what happens yeah? Use different things that are not meant to be used for traditional painting, most of the time it’ll look like shit, but you may achieve something mad interesting. You don’t have that in tattooing right? I mean thank fuck, otherwise people would end up losing their limbs probably. So actually the only experimentation is to fuck around with textures and techniques, I think. Maybe. 

The imagery and colour palettes that you use are really vibrant and unique; logos and pop culture references combined with animals and objects. How do you come up with your designs?

They often just kinda come by themselves, also there’s a huge participation from my awesome customers, you know most people that come to me to get tattooed are keen for some sort of madness. So throughout our conversation we come up with actually 5 new ideas that I’ll happily use later for some flash designs. Like last time a customer wanted a tiger or something like that, now he’s got a burning lambo, Louis Vuitton spider and a burning paper plane made out of 100 dollar bill because he didn’t want a neon slice of pizza. But yeah I suppose the key is to just keep your head open, inspiration comes from everywhere like going to an art gallery, a walk with a friend, good dinner, a movie with Adam Sandler. Well maybe not the last one. 

Does your background as a fine art student influence the way you approach tattooing? I’m sure it is a different education than many tattooists have had.

That’s a really good question actually! And fuck yeah it helped. I came across a lot of tattoo artists that are really proud that they are self made artists, and always wondered where this pride comes from? 

I’ve spent 6 years in fine art school in Poland then studied fine arts in university and that’s probably one of the best things that happened to me to be fair. 

Right, Quentin Tarantino didn’t finish a film school and he’s still great but it’s not a competition and an education doesn’t make you a better or worse artist but it surely can help. It’s more like a self development course where you can get criticism from people that know their shit.

I speak here of course from my own experience and my own observations, coming across many tattoo artists, this industry is really “skill based” though there’s not that much pressure on ideas nor concepts. Often the ideas as well as overall composition of a piece is just hmmm.. lame? 

The faces with a rose photoshopped in it, Greek sculptures cut in half and so on, I think you know very well what I’m talking about, just flick through sponsored posts on Instagram. So I remember while studying how often I was truly convinced about the awesomeness of my project and after a crit with a professor I’d realize that there is so much more to be done or that I should just use it as a reference and drift slightly into completely different direction or that the whole thing was just shit to start with. And damn I miss that sometimes, generally people from this industry can’t take any form of criticism.

The idea is the key! So once again big shoutout to my customers for most of the time coming up with some madness I’d never think of!

You mentioned that you love snakes and have a few yourself, where did that love come from?

Yeah! Snakes! I love all sorts of animals! Actually wish that sir David Attenborough was my relative and I could have a cup of tea and regular chats with him.

The diversity of the animal kingdom is like a never ending exhibition of things we could never imagine. Though why snakes specifically? I don’t actually know, I grew up in Poland where we don’t have that many interesting species of reptiles and so on. I’ve spent most of my childhood watching National Geographic and Animal Planet (when it was still good and focused on animals and there was no Carole Baskin in there). I can still see the face of my mother every Sunday, we used to go to the zoo but the whole trip was limited to three places: the building with snakes and reptiles, a separate one for crocs and a little park with stone dinosaurs. Every single Sunday. My mom would stay outside on the bench and wait like an hour for me to come out. The only way I could get closer at this time was to actually have some exotic pets, when I was eight I got my first spider I think. Then it just escalated. Is keeping exotic pets a good thing? Still can’t really answer that question though throughout this adventure I’ve always kept the wellbeing of them as my priority. 

Later on I managed to actually travel to different parts of the world and see them in their natural habitat, and trust me to find a massive king cobra in Indonesia and to feel that this species is superior there and myself as a human don’t belong there and don’t have power over it is a truly amazing experience. To see a vivid blue pit viper just chilling on the branch on Komodo islands. Make the pandemic end and take me there! 

Now I have a massive python and a little monitor lizard and I love them with all my heart, one hint though: never open my freezer as there’s no ice cream there but rabbits and piglets. 

Outside of tattooing, what do you like to get up to in your spare time? 

In my spare time I’m all over the place or total opposite and lay two days on the sofa. As all tattoo artists sit like monkeys during working I’ve realized I gotta move so as not to have back problems in the future, so all kinds of yoga, stretching etc. but that’s a kind of a must more than a hobby.

Except that - Aikido, I love it, of course that’s not a ‘real martial art’ like Muai Thai, but I don’t need to be a killing machine. Even just to watch the grace of the movements, the complexity of techniques. It’s been kept traditional as it was back in the day though it's a fairly young martial art. It does require quite a lot of understanding about your body balance as well as movement.

When the pandemic started, after a few months when I was tired of just blazing one joint after another, myself and a bunch of friends watched a film with archers and a week later all of us had their own bow. It’s a pretty cool thing to be honest. The weird focus you get during shooting, like a tunnel vision when you pull an arrow to your cheek - sick! 

Of course, like everyone else, I adore a chilled one with a glass of wine and a good movie but I do try to stay outdoors as much as I can.

You regularly guest in studios in London and Germany. Aside from there, do you have any exciting guest spots coming up, or any travel plans?

I lived in Germany for few years so it’s always a pleasure to go back to Eisenherz, and The Circle London is like my second home, can’t wait for borders to open and restrictions will ease so traveling won’t require a two weeks long quarantine then I’ll definitely go work and visit my friends in Hong Kong! Love that city. Also this year surely I’ll go Amsterdam, Paris and actually really wanna go up north to Scandinavia. Have a fair amount of requests from The States but no plans have been made so far, though I do wanna see some gators in Florida soooooo…….

To see more of what Aleksy is up to, and maybe even see some reptiles for yourself, check out his Instagram @aleksymarcinow.