Portrait n°4: Julien Roze

Please introduce yourself.

My name is Julien, I’m 27 years old and I’m from Bordeaux. I’m in charge of fire safety for a Parisian radio station. I’m also part of a band, I play bass guitar. We play Punk, Mods, Skin and Psychobilly covers, sung in French by a female singer. We mostly play for ourselves and for our friends, nothing pretentious. We have a blast and that’s what matters. I like music from the 30s through to the 70s, from Swing to Punk via ways of Blues, Northern Soul and Shoegaze.

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I’m also interested in working class kids touched by that kind of music. After the war, a fraction of the western youth decided to reject the bourgeois establishment. This movement was fuelled by music, especially Rock n’ Roll, and vice versa. There was a certain will to live, be free, and generally say fuck to everything. When you look at newspapers’ titles back then, it was mostly bar brawls, smashed up concert halls, wild bunches… It wasn’t that mean spirited, just naïve. It seemed they were mostly kids looking for thrills, and of course you want to identify yourself to them.

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How did you get into tattooing?

Let’s just say that this art is very present in the urban sub-cultures I grew up in. Getting tattooed was just a logical step in being who I am. Even though aesthetic is very important, the first purpose of tattoos to me is to carry a strong symbolic. Kind of a “photo report” of rugged lives. I’m particularly keen on old sailors’, prisoners’, whores’, chavs’, lost souls’ and shitty lives’ tattoos. In my opinion, a washed out tattoo on a rugged face has more meaning than a clean, technical, but meaningless piece. It’s first and foremost a way of saying fuck, expressing your love, your hate, it’s a story. Tattoos for me are like a scream….

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What did you make of your first experience?

Unforgettable! It was this artist, Gravier, a friend of mine, who now works in Quebec, and who practiced on his friends. We were in Montpellier, we did it on a friend’s couch, listening to Toots and the Maytals. I was kind of worried about how it would feel, the pain, and at the same time I couldn’t wait. I’ll never forget that strange feeling of the first needle pinch. Once it’s over, you’re like “Well that’s it, I did it”. I started up by covering my left arm, then my calves, in old school style. They represent rejection of the establishment, my freedom, my hometown, my vices, my pains and my loves.

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Can you tell me about how you met Mikaël de Poissy?

I knew he was amazing at this style I was looking for, “bondieuseries” as he calls them. I went to his shop to tell him about my projects. He immediately understood what I wanted on my skin, we were on the same page. Then I realised we would get along beyond just tattooing. We have a lot in common. We can spend entire sessions discussing deep subjects, chit chatting or watching Conan the Barbarian (true story). This guy knows where he comes from and where he’s headed, and I like that.

We started with my right arm, where Greco-Roman and Celtic statues are intertwined with vegetation. These statues symbolise warrior pride, audacity and wisdom, as well as romanticism and melancholia. As for the vegetation in the background, it’s here to remind us that Man is rooted in nature. This piece represents the Promethean Europe’s roots, to which I wanted to pay tribute.

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Both my thighs are in the same spirit, but more light hearted. It’s a bore and a rooster, labelled “tough” and “proud”, a reference to typical French attitudes.

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My chest is a portrait of the legendary French headsman Anatole Deibler. His portrait is surmounted with a guillotine, birds and flowers. It reads “Only God and We may”. It was headsmen’s motto, the only ones who could kill without being trialed for murder. This dark and cold character, as well as his job, fascinates me. He’s still to this day the most famous of all, admired for his professionalism, with 395 heads under his belt. Sleeping with the reaper was a family tradition, from father to son for generations. What’s so interesting is that he lived in a time when death by decapitation, a typically French sentence, was very present and public, yet it was already a modern society. On top of this was medias’ sensationalism, which brought him fame, as well as a general context of securisation, following the Apache Gang and the Bonnot Band’s crimes. It cannot have been that easy being the headsman, carrying those deaths on your conscience in such a catholic society. The ultimate irony is that he became an icon to thugs and prisoners. Some went as far as joking about him: “My heart to mom, my head to Deibler”.

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You seem pretty loyal to your artists…

It’s a connexion first of all. Gravier was a friend, so it made sense. Mikaël de Poissy became one. I follow my heart, and it’s served me well so far. Getting tattooed is a human relationship as well. I wouldn’t give my skin to anybody.

There’s a very strong personal engagement in your process. What do these tattoos bring you?

It’s a visual and artistic expression of what defines you. It gives me a feeling of satisfaction having my identity’s scars inked on me for eternity. I’m also rather satisfied about breaking conventional society’s codes.

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What do you make of the supposedly addictive nature of tattooing?

It comes and goes, now’s a rather calm period, I’m fixing myself some limits. But it really is compulsive, indeed. The thing is, I’ve always been attracted to the aesthetic of fully covered bodies. I only want to leave my face blank. I’ll stop when I run out of space, with nothing left to tell or live.

How is pain part of the creative process?

I don’t particularly enjoy the pain, but I think it’s necessary. I consider it a challenge. Plus you’ve got to earn your tattoos.

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How come you’re not afraid of the permanent aspect of tattoos?

It is the permanent aspect of it that gives tattoo its charm! My tattoos will be my road buddies all the way to my coffin.

Did tattoos change the vision you had of your own body?

Yes, you discover it. It’s very peculiar, because with each piece your body evolves, yet it’s only the continuity of what you are.

How did it impact your social interactions?

It’s not just the looks you get, it changes your social relationships, the way people perceive you. Paradoxically, it can encourage dialogue and attract a certain sympathy, or dig a hole between you and sceptics. It’s a personal process, so I’m not going to sing tattoo’s praises to people who simply won’t understand it. The trend these days seem to be more openness though, with upsides and downsides. On the one hand, this allows for new artists to emerge and mean we’re not that marginalised anymore, but on the other it diminishes the transgressive aspect of it.

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How did people around you react when you started getting more and more pieces?

Rather well actually. Thank god, considering my determination. Like for everybody, my mom didn’t like it at first, but she got used to it. For the rest, my friends and I have the same cultural landmarks, so it helps…

How are you tattoos perceived in your professional environment?

I work in a very conventional environment, so I have to hide them. Long sleeves and buttoned collars are in order. It doesn’t bother me that much in the sense that my tattoos are a reflexion of how I am, and not the opposite. I can live hiding them. What’s funny is seing my collegues’ surprise when see me outside of work. I’d say the only thing bothering me is social pressure, leading to self-censorship, because it hinders professional careers. I don’t see how being tattooed would make you any less good at your job. That’s a point on which we, the French, are a bit backward compared to anglo-saxons societies. They are much more tolerant on this point.

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How do you see yourself growing old with these?

Nicely. Even if it won’t look as good, it’ll have character and life, and that’s all I care about… You know, the smell of an old book? It’s kind of the same. And my kids will be impressed (laughter).

Any regrets?

No remorse, no regrets.

Your biggest dream?

Dying with the feeling of a job well done.

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

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