Portrait n°1: Arnaud Sommier

Can you introduce yourself?

My name is Arnaud, I’m 26 and I’m an educator in the social sector. I have been working for four years with autistic teenagers at a boarding school.

Besides that, I’ve always done a lot of sports. At first I wanted to be a teacher or a coach and was enrolled in college to study sports, but I gave up. I now practice BMX, grappling and boxing. I love it because it allows me to clear my mind and let off steam.


How did you discover tattooing?

I had many friends who were tattooed in the BMX community; they were often older. As a result I started to develop an interest for tattooing and did some research about it.

If you had to choose one word to define tattooing? 

In my opinion it’s an art.

When did you start getting tattooed?

I started four or five years ago. I have several friends who were tattooed by Guy le tatooer. When Guy was guest spotting in Paris, one of my friend got a tattoo from him, so I gave a closer look at his work and really dug his drawing skills and lines.


What particularly attracts you to tattooing?  

As I see it, it’s a singular art. I like all things visual and I’m also into photography. In my opinion, the idea of having something inked on my body for the rest of my life is strong and powerful and that’s what attracts me. It represents a part of myself and of my personal journey. Since then I’ve spent a lot of time observing how the guys from Hand In Glove work. I have tried to tattoo pig’s skin and that’s how I realized it wasn’t a joke. It’s an art that cannot be improvised.

What was your first experience like?

Pretty good, I was a little apprehensive whether it would be painful and how much time it would take but it actually went very well. Guy was really cool, the atmosphere was good and my friends who knew him were also there that day.

Are your tattoos symbolising personal experiences? Can you tell me about the stories behind them?

I would say that the top of my body represents “life” and my thighs “death”…

Live what you love means that we should enjoy life and do what we like. I think that I have lost too much time for too many things. It’s important to have a goal and that’s what it represents to me.

What inspired the portrait on my left arm is a picture of my grandma that I used to see at her place. I have always perceived my grandmother as a gypsy, so instead of opting for a realistic portrait, I chose a more traditional style in order to make it iconic.


The eye on my shoulder has been drawn by my best friend, who now lives in Australia and that we both got tattooed. We are as close as brothers now!

The hot-air-balloon symbolises my passion for travelling and it is a reference to Around the world in 80 days which is the only book I have read in its entirety (laughter). I did it for the style but also to symbolise that I like to embrace different cultures, we can always learn from others.


Déjà Mort (Already Dead) is a joke that started with Guy and Rafel’s exhibition. And it reminded me the westerns that my father used to watch when I was a kid, and in these movies you can often see men kneeling in front of their own graves. So even if I first thought of getting it tattooed on my toes, having it above my knees seemed to be the more appropriate placement.

The reaper goes with the Déjà Mort and always reminds me that I must enjoy life. Life is too short!

My other tattoos were mostly done in an old school style and don’t necessarily have a meaning, I did them essentially for the aesthetic.


What does it mean to you to have them on your skin? What do they make you feel?

I’m proud to have the artistic production of a tattooist that I like, these tattoos are visual representations of ideas that I could not create by myself.

How would you describe your own style?

I wanted to start my torso in black and grey in order to have something really graphical, like a carving. But I would say that my style is mostly old school and new school. My friends had mostly lettering and tribal but I was more attracted to traditional. Particularly by the thick black lines, shadings, solid-colors but also color-coding such as black, red, yellow and green.

What is the creative process like? What inspires you?

Generally I discuss it with the tattoo artist, I try to draw but unfortunately I’m not strong enough at it, so I try to read illustration and sketch books as much as possible and in the end I ask apprentices or tattoo artists to draw my tattoos by giving them ideas about what I want. Regarding the placement I fill the emptiness, which is not a problem with old school style.


Which artists did your tattoos?

Guy, Rafel and Bastien from La Tannerie in Toulouse, then Hugo, Fabrice, Fabien and Benoît from Hand In Glove. And finally Baba who is an apprentice at Mystery Tattoo Club.

How do you select the tattoo artists you want to collaborate with?

I had seen Guy’s work on some friends and I really got into it. I met Hugo thanks to a mutual friend and that’s how I eventually met all the guys from the shop: Romain, Fabrice, Fabien and Benoît. If the guy is good at tattooing and I feel he can be trusted, then I’ll go for it and book an appointment. If I have a good feeling with the artist, I would say that I’m quite loyal.

We often talk about addiction but do you personally feel a need or an urgency to get tattooed? Would it be difficult for you to stop getting tattooed and if so how would you explain it?

Yes, it’s easily addictive. I would say that the only constraint is money. Not getting tattooed for six months to one year wouldn’t really be a problem for me, though it’s true that in the last two years I’ve gotten tattooed a lot. I spent quite a lot of time at Hand In Glove watching other people getting tattoos and taking pictures. Every time you’re in the shop you see, you hear; it’s a universe. When you are immersed in this environment you want to carry on.


Are there any limits that you wouldn’t cross?

I probably wouldn’t tattoo my face, hands and neck since people here in France are not very open yet to this idea. Even if it doesn’t bother me personally to have people give me odd looks, if it can represent an obstacle to my career, I’d rather not do it. I have plenty of time to get tattooed; I’ll wait until retirement (laughter).

Do you think there is a sort of fascination with pain? Would it have the same appeal if pain wasn’t part of the creative process? Furthermore would tattooed people have a masochist approach to it?

I don’t get tattooed because it’s painful. But it’s true that without pain, tattooing wouldn’t be the same. Pain comes along with tattooing; it’s a fact that must be accepted. It’s maybe a bit masochistic but in the end we cope with it as a mark of respect toward the tattoo artist but essentially for the final result.

How would you explain the fact that you do not fear the permanency of tattooing?

I put a lot of thought into most of my tattoos and I wouldn’t consider getting rid of one of them. They are part of my life and evolution and represent challenges that I had to overcome. For example, even if I see some of my friends less often, the tattoo I did with them is a perfect reminder of the good times we had.


Do you think people see you differently since you’re tattooed?

Yes. For instance, when I take the kids to the swimming pool people almost look at me as if I were one of them. They stare at me as they would for someone disabled, which is how I feel, except that in this case I chose the difference. These types of people are often ignorant about the art of tattooing and because they are so quick to judge, they remain apprehensive.

Do people question you often? According to you does it encourage interactions?

Tattooed people don’t say anything or just recognize the artist. As for people who have never gotten a tattoo, they either look or stare, rarely ask relevant questions and are often intrusive. My tattoos can start conversations but it’s not necessarily interesting.

What was the reaction of your relatives when you started to become heavily tattooed?

My parents are not fond of it but they don’t really have a choice. According to them it’s awful and useless. They don’t understand the point of getting my skin tattooed for life. Some of my close relations are curious to follow the evolution of my tattoos; most of these relatives are actually tattooed themselves.


According to you what is the appropriate reaction when facing the incomprehension of relatives?

You can get angry and then try to explain your approach but it’s very difficult to pass on the message when negative opinions are already ingrained.

Are your tattoos well accepted within your professional environment?

In the social sector, they don’t pay too much attention to it and are relatively open minded so I can go to work in shorts and t-shirt. While some might look at me strangely, teenagers are generally either intrigued and ask me questions, or just won’t notice it. I’m lucky to work with a young team so the other educators don’t really care.

How do you think tattoos are perceived within French society? Are many stigmas remaining?

Tattoos are still not really well perceived but, in recent years, more and more people are getting tattooed. In Summer you can see many people with tattoos, even if it’s often just a star on their wrist, or a scorpion or a dolphin. Tattoos are becoming more accessible. Trends promote this development but it still remains taboo within the work environment, for instance you would rarely run across someone with a neck or hand tattoo. It’s basically easier in manual or artistic professions.


How do you feel about growing old with your tattoos?

I don’t mind growing old with them because at a certain point change must be accepted. I think they will just become a part of me and evolve with my body.

What are your next projects and which artists would like to collaborate with in the future?

I’m planning to do my right forearm with Fabrice and the rest of my left arm with Hugo, both from Hand In Glove. I will do my legs with the apprentices that, at that time, won’t be apprentices anymore, and with a friend that I hope will soon find an apprenticeship.

Any regrets?

None. I haven’t done any tattoos for a girl (laughter).

Your biggest dream?

To be able to stop working and spend life traveling.

Interview conducted by Céline Aieta 

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