Artists: Murran Billi
Via Mazzini 57
Montecatini Terme 51015
FRESHLY INKED: What year did you start tattooing?
MURRAN: Basically I started tattooing in the year 2000. I was like 28 years old, kind of late. I think I was ready to tattoo at 18 but it takes me a long time to get brave enough and gather the courage to start tattooing. I was always very scared to ruin people or make scars or not be able to do a good shadow. I didn’t have anybody around me to teach me or apprentice me; it took me a long time. At the age of 17 I started getting tattooed by good tattoo artists, and then the 10 years before I started tattooing I got lost—just getting tattoos and doing other things like breeding dogs, teaching Thai boxing, and working clubs. I got my soul a little bit lost. I couldn’t find my way, but I loved the world of the art. My mom is a painter and my mom’s side of the family are all artists, so it happened that at the age of 28 some guy gave me some help: “This is the needle and the ink. If you have questions, you can come to my shop, but do it your own way.” And that was enough to get me started.
FRESHLY INKED: Where did you apprentice?
MURRAN: I didn’t apprentice to nobody—I just started at home like a lot of us. Lots of people know me as a painter and a drawer but they trusted me to tattoo them. I apprenticed on those people. I was proud. Some of my tattoos from then are now very respectable. The line is there; the color, the ink are there. But they were rough. I wanted to finish fast. Everybody was working freehand and I saw a lot of mistakes, but after 10 years they are still there and they are good tattoos. I gave back to what people gave to me. When they come back and they say, “Hey, remember you did one of your first tattoos on me?” I let them come back and make their tattoo better to say thanks for what they gave to me.
FRESHLY INKED: How did you get into tattooing?
MURRAN: Wow, ha ha… The first tattoo I saw was on the French Riviera with my mom on the beach. I was probably 6 years old. I saw this very old-style painter, very traditional, with this dude on his arm and I was like, Whoa. So all of that summer I’d give my mom pencils and she’d have to draw me tigers on my full chest, eagles on my back as big as a back piece. I wouldn’t go to the beach if she didn’t do that. I really wanted to get a tattoo and I was 17 years old in Italy; there weren’t such good artists but I still got one, a skull with roses. I drew it and brought it to the artist and the artist asked that I draw for him. Months after that I had a full book of sketches for him and he said thanks and I asked him about getting started tattooing but he wouldn’t take an apprentice. I gave you all of this fucking material and you gave me nothing. So the next step was getting more tattoos and more tattoos, and finally I found out that I needed to go see the best artists. I got in touch with Robert Hernadez and Boris and all of these amazing artists, so by looking to them, I felt stronger and stronger. I found a guy in Florence who gave me advice and he offered help if I had trouble. I started slowly, and after a year with no apprenticeship, I was super full of work and tattooing like crazy. But what was funny was that the guy who gave me a hand in Florence who had, like, 15 years of experience started getting tattooed by me. He said, “I love your style and want you to do my whole leg.” It was an amazing feeling.
FRESHLY INKED: What has inspired you as an artist?
MURRAN: Basically everything and nothing. It sounds stupid but it’s true. I like a picture, a painting, something I find in the street, a statue. Everything can be inspiring for me to do a good tattoo. What I really love right now and working hard for is doing portraits. I don’t want to get close to reality. This is not what I’m looking for. I want to get back to the basics, like bone structure and anatomy, just because I didn’t study too much. I went to an art school but couldn’t go to university here in Florence because I needed to work and make money. So I’m getting back to basics right now and as soon as I get home, even when I work 10 hours, I put my poor girlfriend on the couch and set up a light and work with charcoal. I do life drawings, for my hand, my mind, and my eyes—to give them knowledge and get better. I also started painting with oils and doing alla prima painting. I’m glad I’m going to have a master here, Mr. Michael Hussar, who is a painter coming to Florence—he is a very nice guy. He is offering me a few hours of his time, and that’s going to be amazing.
FRESHLY INKED: What sets you apart from other artists?
MURRAN: Everyone has a style and there are so many different ways to do this. I was thinking about this today when I was tattooing: At this point you’re doing this, but after 10 years of working and trying, it’s no longer about tattooing; it’s about creating or painting. You have the technique and you have to get better and better in your drawing. I draw a lot and I don’t know what sets me apart from other artists, but it’s more about customers and why they choose me over other artists. They can give you this answer, I think.
FRESHLY INKED: What other mediums do you work in?
MURRAN: I use charcoal, acrylic painting, oil painting. I did airbrush when I was younger. I like to work on Photoshop too. I did a lot of graphic design. I also did fresco, and I worked on a study of an old church at the time. I work gold, I work wood. I don’t sculpt—I can sculpt wood but not marble. I try a lot of different mediums when I have time. Now I am trying to work with—I’m not sure the name of it, but it is something for special effects to reproduce human skin, like a mask for monsters or fake eyes, fake hands, and making the skin all ruined, like if you have a burn. Doing Halloween-style masks, like for a horror movie. The first thing I did was a Hannibal Lecter mask made out of fiberglass. I like doing things like that just to fuck around.
FRESHLY INKED: What tattoo artists do you admire the most?
MURRAN: A lot of artists, really. Boris is a good friend; Robert Hernandez, Stefan, Bob Derelli, great artists. I think they’re outstanding. There are so many; it’s amazing. It’s not about the one I admire the most. I admire so many right now. You just open up the Internet and see so many kids coming out, so many artists, and you go, Oh shit, there’s another one. You think, Fuck, it’s going to be harder to get out there. But it’s a pleasure seeing all of these new artists getting into the business, and the quality keeps going up. Someone who gives their soul and 100 percent to their work. When it is their passion, their job, a way of life and living—those are the people I admire most.
FRESHLY INKED: What kind of tattoos do you look forward to doing?
MURRAN: Right now I want to slow down a little bit in the shop and get back to three days a week, maybe four. Right now I’m working six or seven. I want to slow down a little bit and just tattoo for the passion. I want to prepare some back pieces for a tattoo contest and prepare leg and sleeve work for friends who really want to get tattoos and whatever I want to do. I give them a lower rate but put a lot of focus into it because I really want to do them. Hours and hours of detail. I start to understand and appreciate going over and over the work and making it perfect, giving them effects and challenging myself to see how far I can go and see what level I’m on. I want to do that this year if possible, I want to do that. I want to do renascimento. I have a project right now on a friend: I want to do sleeves of a historic book of poems in Italy about heaven and hell. What is between. I want to represent it as I have in my dreams. I really want to focus on that work and show it to you soon.
FRESHLY INKED: Is there anyone you would like to tattoo?
MURRAN: Of course I would want to tattoo my friend Boris. He’d kill me if he read this but it would be an honor to tattoo him. I like my customers and my friends. I put everyone on the same level and give the best I can. There is nobody I would really like to tattoo, though.
FRESHLY INKED: Is there a tattoo you haven’t done yet that you’re dying to do?
MURRAN: Yes—it’s an old painting of an amazing artist who painted a huge dark Virgin Mary. I don’t want to give away the name but I want to do a full leg and get all the feeling that is in this painting. My friend is going to tell me soon if he’ll let me do it.