Bugs may very well be the love child of Pablo Picasso and Tamara de Lempicka. For nearly 30 years, he’s been “painting on people with a tattoo machine,” creating a signature style that evokes the modern art masters and sets him apart as an innovator in the tattoo world. This French-born artist talks about London’s tattoo culture in ’80s—when he owned the legendary Evil From the Needle—his move to Los Angeles in 2005, and his love for gardening.
NKED: You have a unique style of tattooing. How do you describe it?
BUGS: My work is strongly influenced by cubism and art deco—a mix of both.
How did this style develop?
When I started tattooing, I was practicing in all different styles. I went through all the basics in the beginning. For many years, I was very into Celtic work. I did a lot of it back in the day, and eventually I got tired of it and realized I could do more in my tattooing. I was dying to use some color and slowly started looking to develop a more personal style. I had studied at fine art school for seven years in my town of Perpignan, France, and so I went back to what I really liked in my original art school education, which was art deco and cubism. One day, I came across a customer and he gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted on him. I drew something very abstract and put it on his skin, and that’s how it all started. The following month I did another piece and then another piece, and slowly I started getting used to drawing cubism as a form of tattoo expression. I began to develop that style and over time it became my trademark.
Because it was so new and no one was really doing it in tattooing, how was it received at that time?
I lost a lot of customers! I was so well-known for Celtic, and out of the blue I stopped doing it. I tried to explain that I wanted to do something original, and it was time for me to create my own style. But Celtic and cubism are so different, and I basically lost all of my customers. At the same time, I reached a new part of the tattoo scene, which was more educated and artistic. So I was happy about that. But it took a long time to actually develop a really big clientele because the style was obviously very new and most people were used to skulls, roses, and tribal.
Because there’s such a demand for your work now, how do you keep things fresh and find new ideas to answer the demand?
Well, it’s been about 14 or 15 years since I started doing my own style. I’ve been improving my style over these years and now it’s kind of strong and powerful. When people see my work on others, they recognize it right away. I reached what I was looking for. To keep it fresh is a lot of work. You take a lot of time to progress but to stay on top of your game is the hardest part. Every day I draw. I paint a lot. I practice, and the more I do it, I discover new things.