THEOSONE – Taking skills from skin, to the studio

The art of tattooing has long been accepted and respected in the general community. Tattoos are well and truly ‘OK’ for anyone. Even more so in the graffiti community, thanks to so many writers that have tattooed skin and/or, work on skin themselves. It is also thanks to the many tattoo artists that turn to graffiti style writing, if not for inspiration for their tattooing, but also to actually pick up a can of Montana GOLD or BLACK themselves to work on their styles.

One of the modern sub-disciplines of graffiti is the art of calligraphy. The focus of developing letter styles that have been created in the form of, or influenced by, classic calligraphy with a contemporary urban/graffiti flavour. Some like to call this Calligraffiti. One of these style masters that has managed to clos the loop on tattooing, graffiti and calligraphy, is Berlin based artist THEOSONE.

On a recent visit to his Berlin studio, THEOSONE let us press record on the camera while he set to work showing us that he can do a lot more than just tattoos! Using variations of every Montana Marker product, THEOS was just as cool, calm, and gifted with the ACRYLIC water-based products, as he was with the solvent based qualities of the BOLD and Permanent markers.

Layer by layer, opaque with transparent, on paper or canvas. There was no surface he couldn’t improve with his painterly textures of letters. Each new layer functioning like a sheath of skin on top of the previous one to create even more amazing textures! The results, rich images with various hand styles and multiple entry points. Not a single square centimetre uninteresting to look at.

It got us thinking what was behind these skills that THEOSONE was proving to us that he has. So we asked a few questions in the hope he would share some insight into his creativity. Here is what he had to say:

MC- Berlin is a magnet for local and foreign creative people to come and live, work and create in. Are you a local bringing it to your city, or is your background from outside of Berlin? If from the outside, was there one pivotal moment that brought you here, or a process over time?

T- That is true, Berlin is a magnet for creative people. For my wife and I, it took a few visits to take part in art fairs, or painting projects to start seeing the true spirit of Berlin. After a while, we fell in love with the city.

MC- Your artwork is an impressive tapestry of graffiti, calligraphy and tattoo art. Which discipline came first or did they all develop together?

T- Thank you for the kind words. First was fascination with graffiti, I was around 9 years old when I started noticing the culture of Hip Hop coming from the West, finally visible after communism went down in Poland where I grew up. Later came calligraphy, as I got accepted to Art High School and it was a part of my 5 year High School program. After that came the Fine Arts Academy and another 5 years of proper academic schooling and inspiration.

MC- Is graffiti a big part of your creative practice? Which of your creative outlets is the “mother” of them all for you?

T- Graffiti is a huge part of my life, even though it was a while since I ‘did’ a wall. It is in my blood, in my muscle memory. The way I think and work is very dynamic and energetic, and I know it is like this because of my passion for graffiti.

MC- You have shown us that you know how to paint and draw impressively on studio based materials like paper and canvas. If you could earn a living making studio art, would that entice you to put down the needle? Or does tattooing play a larger role in your life and creativity than just work?

T- I still paint and draw quite a lot, and I have a few collectors of my art. To be honest, I think if I focused on ‘gallery’ work, I would be able to easily live off this after a while. But I love interaction with people. Tattooing, owning a tattoo studio with an art gallery, and having a workshop space in one is the perfect thing for me at the moment. I can connect all of my passions in one place.

MC- Does your work as a tattoo artist look like the work your featured for us also? What body part do you like tattooing least, or which makes you feel the most awkward to do?

T- My signature calligraffiti style is a huge part of the tattoos I create. But I also remind myself to use traditional calligraphy and lettering styles as well as drawings or abstract forms to keep my mind more open and fresh, to explore and learn. I am very scared of closing myself in on one style and slowly drifting into mannerism.

Every body is different so it’s hard to say if there is a body part I don’t like to tattoo, but there are some parts that are harder to tattoo because of the character of the spot, or because they are a bit more stressful. Like on the face for example. I don’t tattoo private parts. And now after many years, the awkwardness is almost gone. When I started I had a few moments where I had a cold sweat on my back, or a shiver down my spine…

MC- If you had the choice, what would come first, the drawing or painting? Solvent based (BOLD) or water based (ACRYLIC)?

T- I guess the drawing, I feel more comfortable with shapes and contrasts than colors and values. I prefer water based because of simplicity of use and clean up, but I enjoy the solvent-based effects more.

MC- Do you also apply your Calligraffiti skills with spray paint?

T- Yes I do, whenever I have a chance to spray a bit I try to apply some of my ‘moves’.

MC- I can imagine tattooing is mentally demanding due to the responsibility you have to the person offering you their body to be creative on. When you’re tattooing, is it more fatiguing mentally and physically than when you make art that’s not on another human?

T- At first, I was very stressed that I could hurt people, make a mistake, or make them suffer too much but it passed with time. I work a lot and that helps me to be more confident and comfortable. I can feel the flow now and the more relaxed I am, the more chilled the clients are and all goes well. Tattooing is challenging both physically and mentally but painting big projects is also. I had the chance to paint murals on UNESCO protected buildings where there are so many rules and requirements. So many people involved in the process. I graduated in Industrial Design and for a few years I was working as a designer in the transportation industry. The level of stress there was even higher because of the projects were worth millions of Euros. Now, I work with my own name and the responsibility that goes with that. If I fuck something up, I’m the one to blame. There are no other people getting hit by the consequences of my actions. Well maybe the tattooed client, but I hope that will never happen.

MC- Is there such a thing as a tattoo artist that themselves have no tattoos?

T- Of course, there are many amazing tattoo artists with no tattoos or just with something tiny. It’s a topic for a whole separate article. I think that there are a few groups of people in the tattoo world. Some care more about their looks and being a part of a specific subculture, and there are other people more focused on creating the art on other people…

MC- If you had to leave Berlin, where else would you want to live and work?

T- I moved A LOT in my life! Mostly around Poland, but Berlin is the perfect place for my family and I at the moment. I love this city so much. It has its magic. Maybe in the future it would be nice to have a piece of land on this planet, somewhere with a nice natural view.

MC- Thank you for sharing a little about yourself with us and for your time.

Images by MONTANA-CANS / Jordan Katz