We speak to the founder of Sang Bleu about his ruthless editorial standards, transitions in tattoo culture and his new print quarterly
If you’re a tattoo artist, getting your work featured on @TTTism is something of a badge of honour. Taglined “a vision of contemporary tattooing,” it’s the brainchild of Maxime Plescia-Buchi, the London-based tattoo auteur, publisher, designer, and founder of Sang Bleu. Two and a half years ago, he started the Instagram account and began to curate tattoo world’s most striking and innovative talents. It’s a painstaking process –when a tattoo catches Plescia-Buchi’s attention, he thoroughly vets the tattooist to make sure it isn’t just a fluke or a good photo of a mediocre tattoo. He created TTTism, pronounced “tattoo-ism,” to document the artists and the culture, rather than images of tattoos in a vacuum. Since it’s Plescia-Buchi, artists who specialise in highly stylised, intricate blackwork dominate the page, but there are also enough eruptions of colour to present a meaty cross-section of tattooing’s cutting edge.
Although known for his iconic tattoo designs, Plescia-Buchi is also committed to expanding his vision to all kinds of artistic forms of expression. “Designing a tattoo, clothes, publishing or teaching proceed from the same vision, just like writing and composition.” As such TTTism will become a print quarterly, to debut later this month. Plescia-Buchi told me he wanted to apply the artistic direction and editorial standards of a high fashion magazine to a tattoo publication. And at 192 pages designed by the guy whose clients include Rick Owens and Kanye West, it does not disappoint. Cult tattooists Tati Compton, Thomas Hooper and sally appear alongside fashion photographers Maxime Ballesteros and Adam Katz Sinding, as well as streetwear brand A-COLD-WALL* designer Samuel Ross and model Ronja Furrer.
We caught up with Plescia-Buchi to talk the conception of TTTism, keeping the spirit of tattooing alive, and the fascinating transitions sweeping tattoo culture.
What was the concept behind TTTism when you first started it?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: There was a reaction to two things. First of all, I was seeing Instagram tattoo pages that were amassing ridiculous amounts of followers based on nothing. Just gathering things with at best a weak theme, but with absolutely no real understanding or no real message, no real information, not even a comment saying who did what. And some of them were doing it tastefully. But I started feeling more than frustrated: I became concerned and a bit irritated by the fact that people were getting more attention than they deserved in my opinion, and were becoming quite influential with either the wrong intentions or no intentions at all. Which is pretty much the same.
And on the other hand, I was seeing more credible, traditional, pre-digital-era-born publications struggling both to find a voice and find an identity online, but also, sometimes struggling generally to keep up with what tattooing is nowadays. Even though I’ve been in the game for a while, I’m still really excited about the new styles and experimentations. I embrace innovation, as long as it’s done with true artistry, but also with real quality and real respect for a certain tradition. Not necessarily for the tradition and this kind of rigid allegiance, but a respect for the spirit of what tattooing is. I have no loyalty to whatever traditions if it's not justified, but I really want tattooing to stay that magical thing that it is. And for this, it’s very important to leave out the simple followers or the opportunistic people, even if they also have their role to play in the bigger picture. Tattooing is an amazing thing, where all kinds of people can make a living and be happy; that’s beautiful. But nonetheless, I want to separate what I consider really perpetuating the spirit of what tattooing is.
“I have no loyalty to whatever traditions if it's not justified, but I really want tattooing to stay that magical thing that it is” – Maxime Plescia-Buchi
And that’s yet another dimension, which is that tattooing is an oral tradition. There’s no books, there’s no universities. Keeping traditional tattoo media alive is important to perpetuate a certain knowledge. This is something that is being completely lost online with new media. So, me being kind of in between, I wanted to see if I could find a happy middle, bring something that is really focused on the community, rather than the completely superficial perspective of what tattooing is, and bring a connoisseur perspective while completely playing by the rules of digital media and Instagram pages. I think that we can continue to promote and keep alive what I believe in and what makes me excited to go tattooing.
What made you want to turn TTTism into a magazine?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: I had this idea three weeks ago at most. It was on one of those sleepless nights, and I was thinking about how I still feel excited to look at magazines, but rarely find satisfaction inside. I was like, we have so much incredible material, why not print it? Just download some material, just turn it into print. I studied art direction. It doesn’t take much for me to give it a shot, and then see what happens. And who knows? It might not work to whatever scale, but there’s no way it cannot be a pleasant thing to print something that people can enjoy holding, owning, manipulating, reading. The amount of text is fairly minimal at this stage. I went to work in the morning and at first I told my graphic designer, “Take the last 10 people on the TTTism Instagram page, take the last 10 tattoos and do a layout with it. I just want to see how it looks.” Like four tattoos a page, just for me to get excited about it. And he did it. I had a look at the end of the day, and I was like yes! I want TTTism the magazine to be easy, or at least the first issue, I want it to be fun for me. I’m so excited.
How is TTTism related to or a departure from what you were doing with Sang Bleu?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: The difference with Sang Bleu is that TTTism is really about tattooing. Sang Bleu Magazine was never about tattooing. It was about culture, and tattooing, fashion, arts were certain ways to talk about this. But as far as TTTism is concerned, it is about tattooing. It is about the culture of tattooing, about the people who get tattoos, and why we do it, and how we do it, and how do we do it the best. And how do we continue to keep this industry beautiful and how everyone makes sure it stays this incredible thing that we all fell in love with.
How do you choose artists to feature in TTTism? What’s the thread that links them aesthetically and idealistically?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: The thread is not aesthetic. The thread is the realness. The thread is to deal with people who have a real vision in their work. The magazine has the title TTTism and the slogan is “contemporary tattooing.” I mean obviously, I’m in a certain community. I have a certain vision of things. Of course, I’m going to start where I am with my own tastes and my own connections. But the goal is to cover all areas, styles and communities of tattooing, down the line. What I’m in interested in is to represent the history. To really represent tattooing, both from a historical perspective, from the history of tattooing and the forefathers of tattooing in all kinds of archives I can find, to kids doing it now with DIY because they can.
Because this is how I fell in love with tattooing. I didn’t fall in love with artistic tattooing, which was pretty rare in the 80s, I fell in love with hand-poked tattoos on the local punks who were just drinking beer at the train station. That’s what I fell in love with. And then later I educated myself, and I realized how amazing tattooing could be. But this is what’s beautiful about tattooing: What the thread is, is that energy.
You said you were really excited about new styles and that you embrace innovation as long as it’s done with true artistry, so what type of innovative things that are being done in the tattoo community are you excited about the most?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: I’m going to say intrigued before excited. From an art history point of view, but also a more general point of view, tattooing is getting to a very interesting transition. What’s happening is that it’s going from—to put it in simple terms, there’s more to it than that—subcultures to the mainstream. But more than this, what’s very interesting, and which I’ve already covered extensively with Sang Bleu, is I started seeing tattooing not only as a technique, but as a general cultural practice and artistic practice entering the scope of contemporary art. And this is very interesting to me, because I come from subcultures growing up, but also from a fairly classical background. What I find really interesting is to see people who are educated and practicing fine artists who become tattooists. And they have for many years now, but now it is starting to be a really recurrent thing to see trained fine artists, young people out of school in their early 20s, get into tattooing.
“I started seeing artists having a real interest in finding energy, but also a sort of connection to reality that had been missing in fine art for a while” – Maxime Plescia-Buchi
Ten years ago, it would be a few fine artists, like Santiago Serra or Douglas Gordon, who use tattooing in their pieces as a technique. It wasn’t anything about tattooing as such. And then progressively, I started seeing artists having a real interest in finding energy, but also a sort of connection to reality that had been missing in fine art for a while, and starting to see fine artists finding this interesting and exciting. For me, this is bringing a real new perspective to tattooing, because it’s only the very beginning of this. I think tattooing is going to enter the scope of the fine art community as a whole. For example, I’m collaborating with Julius Meinl for World Poetry Day (March 21) because designing a tattoo, clothes, publishing or teaching proceed from the same vision, and so does writing and composition. And once again, tattooing is not just something you do, but something you are, as a culture. Not just from a clichéd point of view, but as something that is real and that people can do and that is relevant to an artistic practice.
What I’m starting to see is happening particularly in continental Europe. And in the US a little bit, because there’s more of a tattoo tradition in the US, so obviously to challenge this there’s more inertia, but the US is also very reactive. The UK is very old-school and very traditionalist tattoo-wise, so I wouldn’t see that come to England too soon, but in Europe, in Belgium, in France, and Switzerland you see that happening now and I think it’s very exciting and very inspiring for me.
While that transformation is happening, how do you hope TTTism will transform tattoo culture?
Maxime Plescia-Buchi: I don’t think TTTism should transform tattoo culture, but I hope that it can help this transition to be as smooth and pleasant as possible and positive for everyone. At the end of the day, that’s already what Sang Bleu was. I didn’t create something with Sang Bleu, I just put a form on something that was already happening, but wasn’t being represented in a way that did it justice.