As the subversive tattooist's pop-up parlour launches, we speak about Sang Bleu, inspirations and challenging the industry
Maxime Buchi – the London based tattoo auteur whose clients include Lea T and Nicola Formichetti – is taking his experimental vision in body-wear to Selfridges. Open til June 12, the Sang Bleu pop-up studio space will give visitors the chance to be tattooed by one of the studio’s top artists. What's more, this weekend only, you'll be able to choose from a special selection of limited designs by Buchi himself. It’s the latest in a series of shifting, multidisciplinary projects launched by the artist since he founded Sang Bleu in 2004, a publication, in its industry-challenging focus on body modification, fetish and subcultures, that has spawned a decade of work spanning art shows, graphic design and fashion. Working at the intersection of art and sociology, Buchi spearheads tattooistry as a cultural touchstone. We spoke to the designer about challenging stereotypes, practicing what you preach and first (tattoo) loves.
Sang Bleu, described as a rejection of the usual categorizations and segmentations, is 10 years old this year. What does the publication reject in 2014, and alternatively, what do you feel it must embrace?
Maxime Buchi: Things have evolved a lot. And globally, whether we have anything to do with it or not, they have evolved in the direction I was hoping they would! So I am happy. At least in terms of the categories SB focused on 10 years ago: tattooing is a mainstream culture, fashion and fine arts are permanently conversing, fetish is becoming an accepted addition to sexuality. The challenges have changed but they are still present. They mostly concern the digital vs the "real", or analogue. A lot of content is available online but I feel that my mission is to refuse the standardisation of search engine culture and social media socialisation. Sang Bleu's mission is to reject the dichotomy of digital and analog but to make sure, on all intellectual, artistic, social, and erotic levels, that both worlds develop an optimal collaboration and augment each other.
“Tattooing being one of the last major non-mainstream practice and iconographies remaining, it naturally has to be carefully integrated by anyone who wants to crystalize the spirit of our time" – Maxime Buchi
You work at the intersection of the fashion and tattoo industries, through your art direction with designers such as Rick Owens and McQ, and now with ventures such as the pop-up studio at Selfridges. How do tattoos redefine fashion, and vice versa?
Maxime Buchi: Fashion was originally a culture with a very specific historical and social context but it has now expanded to become a globalized and democratic(ish) set of knowledges, practices, thinkers that develop tools for people to express their identity through their appearance. In the same way, tattoos used to be a culture belonging to specific social groups – but now, it has outgrown this to become a technique anyone can use (with precaution) to express their identity. So, essentially, fashion and tattooing are now overlapping and even though tattooing can still carry a lot of connotations, it has been integrated as a "tool" for the "new fashion" as I defined it earlier. But more specifically, this underlying evolution brought tattooists to integrate general "stylistic" (fashion) parameters in the way they conceive their tattoos and sometimes even use elements of jewelry and tailoring in design. Likewise, tattooing being one of the last major non-mainstream practice and iconographies remaining – one of the last cultures with something of a "subversive" value – it naturally has to be carefully integrated by anyone (artist, fashion designer, stylist) who wants to crystalize the spirit of our time.
Tattoos have undoubtedly hit the mainstream. Some might say that lessens their power now – what would you say to that?
Maxime Buchi: The power of a tattoo is that that you give to it. Any tattoo at any time can be weak or strong. It purely depends on the context and the people involved. Just like political ideas, or any cultural movent, its mass appeal manifests its strength. But it's up to each person involved to make sure this is maintained. And that's what Sang Bleu's mission was from the get go. Embrace mainstream-isation, but make sure the essence is preserved.
Your work is clearly focused on breaking boundaries and challenging stereotypes: mixing concepts of fetishism, bondage and gender. What’s the next frontier?
Maxime Buchi: I am interested to take my work into the realm of fine art. Work in a less literal, contextually-formatted context. I am not as angry or as hungry as I was in my mid 20s. I want to progress towards more poetic and subtle worlds. But this without changing any of the core subject matters you mentioned.
What other tattoo artists do you admire, and why?
Maxime Buchi: Oh my, so many. I'm not going to start listing my peers, there are just too many. But I will mention those that I owe my own initial desire to tattoo to. Filip Leu with whom I apprenticed and who personifies contemporary tattooing. Duncan X and Thomas Hooper who pretty much single-handedly created the style that I do. Liam Sparkes with whom I worked in my first years being a tattooist and who definitely helped me define myself as a person-tattooist. Alex Binnie who is my ultimate reference in terms of a vision of what kind of cultural and social reference a tattoo studio can be. Andalso Duke Riley and East River Tattoo family where I work and who definitely were a major influence for me. I also admire Scott Campbell for his vision and for the support he shows me. Rinzing Thaptsangky, BJ Betts and Norm are also amazing innovators in their tattooing.
Finally – describe your first tattoo. How did it make you feel?
The studio will operate on a basis of walk in’s and bookings. Appointments can be booked by emailing or by visiting the studio - Selfridges Ground Floor, 400 Oxford St London. The 7th and 8th of June will be for walk-ins only.