Portrait n°3: Antoine B.

Please introduce yourself.

I’m Antoine, 31 years old, and I am a geologist, specifying in palaeopalynology. I study fossil pollens in order to reconstruct ancient landscapes and climates. This is the stone I bring to paleontology, earth’s study. Besides that, I also play the harpsichord, and have done so from the age of six. My dad built me a DIY harpsichord at home and passed his passion for baroque music onto me.

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What drew you towards tattooing?

It’s not a family tradition that’s for sure! In fact, I’ve always had an artistic side, I draw a bit, love music, and actually, my research job requires quite a bit of creativity. People have this image of the strict researcher wearing his blouse, working in a lab, but in fact the job forces you to be extremely creative, as you are free to do what you want. We walk untouched paths, and try to solve new problems, and you must be pretty inventive to find the solutions. Part of my job is also to reconstruct ancient landscapes, so I work with artists who draw long extinct landscapes, plants and animals.

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What I like about tattooing is how strong it is in itself. I had no real interest in it originally, until I discovered a new movement was emerging, one that expressed something remarkable! I read a lot about what was done, yet it took me six years of thinking it over and assembling ideas, but I knew straight away that I would come to it.

It was pretty clear to me that I was going to start with a large piece, for as I was looking at stuff, these were the works I really liked. It’s a way to express shapes with details, to get a true fluidity with the body, and that’s what I find interesting. I’m drawn towards Japanese integrals. I love solid black colouring, waves and Japanese iconography. I wanted to adapt this style with new patterns. Quite quickly, I wanted to do the chest. But what was important was the idea of body covering rather than patterns.

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How did the idea for your first piece come about?

I drew a few sketches myself, and knew I wanted some sort of winged animal on my chest. I chose Archaeopteryx lithographica, a dinosaur of the bird family. Eagles and howls are a recurring theme, particularly on this spot: this was a way for me to bend traditional codes and do something that had never been done.

How did you meet Romain Pareja?

I quickly went to see Romain Pareja, who worked at Tin-Tin’s back then and who now has his own shop Hand In Glove. I knew the shop as my high school was just next to it. I went to see them with my project, and they sent me to Romain. I looked at his work, liked it, and we started talking it over. It was important to me that he liked the project too. He sketched something up in ten minutes, and though it wasn’t quite that, I saw the man could draw, with nice movements, and that’s what I liked. I left the shop with a few sessions planned, that I organised at a specific time in my university career: the end of my doctorate.

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So you started this project at a key moment in your life. Why make this choice?

Writing a thesis is a long and stressful process, especially towards the end. I knew I needed a deadline, to force me. I thus scheduled sessions almost every month, to synchronise my writing stages and tattoo meetings.

How did the first experience go?

I was quite nervous, as we were starting with a big piece straight up. I had the idea to do the rest, but the chest was kind of my tattoo starting point. It was actually less painful than I expected it to be, and Romain was very comforting. On top of that, Tin-Tin’s shop is a pretty laid back place, where you feel good, so it went quite well.

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Please tell me about the collaborative aspect of it, how did you build the project with Roman Pareja?

I give him the freedom to express himself. Tattoo artists are artists first and foremost, and that’s what is important to me. Tattooing has recurring themes, like skulls and roses, subjects on which artists constantly practice. With paleontology, references to extinct animals and plants were more challenging, and interpretation mistakes are more likely. It’s kind of like making a spelling mistake on a lettering in a language you don’t quite manage. So the only constraint I put on Romain was to guide him to stick more or less to fossils’ reality, while letting him express his style, kind of Japanese comic book style that I like. What I like about Romain is how original his drawings are, elaborate and fitting. He sinks references in and builds something totally new out of it.

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That’s when you knew you wanted to do the full suit?

After that first one, I took a break, thought about it and came back to Romain. He seemed surprised to see me, I think he thought I’d had enough (laugh). Actually not, you get back to it rapidly, and at this point, I told him the level of covering I was aiming for, and that I wanted to go on with arms, back, back of thighs, avoiding visible parts. We thus carried on the belly with Tyrannosaurus rex. I let Romain take some liberties, for instance T.Rex normally has only two fingers but Romain wanted three. Some dinosaurs, close to T.Rex, have three, so I let him have it on that one, and he was right, it looks better. T.Rex thus became Giganotosaurus carolinii, an Argentinian carnivorous beast. We then added plants around it, as that’s what I specialise in.

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Can you tell me a little bit more about the work in progress on your back?

For the back, I wanted a big animal with feathers, so we did Microraptor gui. It’s a dinosaur close to birds that lived in China and had a specificity: two pairs of wings. The funny thing is, there’s always a big debate in paleontology concerning the animals’ colours. It’s the big unknown, and artists are pretty free to imagine what they want. Very recently, a group of Yale researchers managed to determine the pigment colour of feathers. That happened right as I was starting my piece. And the great irony is that two weeks after we did the outline, an article was published in Science, describing my bird’s colour! Just in time to start the colouring!

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I know you’re interested in tattooing more generally. Isn’t it frustrating to limit yourself to one unique big piece?

Well, you see tons of good stuff, different styles, so of course it’s a hard choice to make. Space is limited. But we got off a good start with Romain, and in any case there’s still a good two years work ahead of us. We’ve already planned it all out, and I’ve got sessions all the way up to mid-2014 (laughter).

What is it that fascinates you so much about tattooing?

Once you get in the tattoo world, you’re kind of stuck. I love the fact that while being creative, it goes beyond drawing. It’s on the skin and moves with it, adapting to shapes. What I find particularly appealing is its permanency. Without permanency, it just wouldn’t be the same.

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Do you feel the need to get tattooed? How would you explain the addictive nature of this art?

It’s clearly addictive, but then again I fixed myself some limits. I must admit that when too much time passes between sessions, I start craving it. There’s also the fact that a work in progress is something unfinished, you have parts of you body with just outlines, or some colour patches. There’s also the atmosphere and the cool relationship with the artist. Plus I live in Sweden now, so coming back to Paris for tattoo sessions is also an excuse to see my friends.

It’s a need that’s thought out in the long run. I don’t know if I can really explain it. It is a decision that can shock some people, people not used to this, especially with a large piece like mine. The truth is, when I get into something, I generally don’t half-ass it.

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Why did you fix yourself those limits?

I can’t really put anything on visible areas because of my job. Perceptions on tattoos are changing, and you can also see an artistic evolution. I see that in Sweden: more people are tattooed, and dare to do bigger things without it being a problem. In France it’s still quite hard, it’s not as accepted. I don’t want to close doors at this point in my life when I’m still looking for a stable job.

So in the end, it’s still not cool being tattooed in your line of work?

Research is not a field where you’ll see big tattooed guys, especially because we also have to teach to students. It has to stay in the private sphere.

© CŽline Aieta

What role does pain play in the creative process?

It’s part of the game. It would also be cool if it didn’t hurt, but it would take away the seriousness of the permanency. Also it’s not a trivial choice. The fact that it hurts, it takes time, go along with the idea of permanency.

What did it change for you to get tattooed?

It gave self-confidence and allowed me to be who I am

How come you’re not frightened about the irreversible aspect of tattoos?

Is tattooing that serious? Not necessarily. I think it allows you to take a step back from yourself and take yourself less seriously.

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How did your relatives react when you started this project?

A lot of them don’t know. As I work abroad, we don’t get to spend that much time together. My mom knows but I didn’t tell her straight away. I started during my thesis and this was a stressful moment for everyone. Then one day she saw some lines coming out of my tee-shirt. It took her a good half hour to realise this was really permanent, but in the end I don’t think she took it that bad. She’s actually getting interested in the process, even if she’s a little worried about the space it’s taking. But my mom is a researcher too, working on primitive art. So even though it’s something new for her, it’s something she can understand.

How do you imagine aging with your tattoos?

Rather well, I’m not scared about it. There will probably be some details to retouch, but I’m not worried. After all, tattoos fossilise!

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Any regrets?

None, and if some people don’t like it, I can always hide it.

Your biggest dream?

More stability, in order to share my life with someone. After your thesis, there are these few precarious years where you move around a lot. It’s a unique opportunity to travel around, discover new countries and create new relationships. These short-term movements don’t help sentimental relationships however, and I’m looking forward to the end of this period.

Interview & Pictures by Céline Aieta – Video & Translation by Grégoire Dyer

 

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