Portrait n°7: Yannick Piters

 

Please introduce yourself.

Yannick Piters, I’m 38 years old and I have been a piercer at Art Corpus for the past ten years. How would I define my life? I must have been 28 when I came to Paris. I lived in Orléans for fifteen years, and when I realised I had seen it all, I left. It was totally baffling for my parents. I was a miller-turner full time and I told them I was leaving to become a piercer in Paris from one day to the next.

I made my choices, and it wasn’t easy, but I think in the end I managed to make good for myself. I’m very happy I did it. Even if I’d failed, I’d still be happy about it, because I would have done something. Same with music, I’ve been in a bunch of bands that never became anything, but I didn’t care, I tried. Making things is what drives you forward.

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Parallel to all this, I guess tattoo naturally fitted in the story. At one point, I told myself “OK, I like piercings, but what’s it like working on skin? How does it feel going through flesh with a needle?” I quickly got interested in piercing as I was getting some done. And at one point, I worked hard to do what I wanted to do and it worked out.

Can you tell me about how you met Roberto Dardini? I know it’s been an important moment.

The encounter with Roberto is special. Art Corpus is in my heart. I met Roberto back when I was getting tattooed by Remy at All Tattoo. Remy introduced me to Emma, who was the Art Corpus piercer at the time. She took me as her apprentice. What she liked about me is that I wasn’t the typical school dropout. I was 28 and I’d just left a comfortable professional life because I wanted a change. I didn’t do it because I had nothing else to do, it was a real strategic move.

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Roberto offered me his help at the right time. He quickly wanted to give me shares of the shop so that I have a say in things, in case something happened to him. He did it because he saw my head was clear and I knew where I wanted to go. More, I think he had a more precise idea of where he wanted to take me. This guy just trusts me.  I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. He has this presence, this life philosophy, where nothing’s a problem, even with all the bad things that happened to him… If there’s problems, we solve them one at a time. That’s Roberto…

What did this job bring you? How did you apprehend working on people?

I’m pretty much self-taught, I started being interested in piercing when I was 18. Straight away, I was driven towards more unconventional piercings, like surface or genitals, and see how this would feel and how it would impact one’s relationship with his body. Piercing gave me self-confidence. When you’re piercing, it’s kind of like tattooing, there’s no margin for error. I have a work ethic and try to look at my work as objectively as possible.

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I’ve always had this cold and brutal side to me, and this job helped me learn how to handle that. It wasn’t a done deal at first. This brutal aspect probably hindered me at first, but I think it helped me in the end. I won’t hesitate to tell you your idea is shit. I came to a job where I had to interact with people and work with them, and I wasn’t prepared for that. It helped me socialise.

What parallel do you draw between piercing and tattoo?

Personally, my approach to piercing is if you’re making a hole, you’re going to keep it. I believe the act of getting pierced is as strong as getting tattooed. The irony of it all is that at Art Corpus, I’m the guy with the most tattoos. I’m a piercer and what I like is sticking needles in people. That’s my trip. What matters to me is that it heals properly. I didn’t become a piercer because I couldn’t be a tattoo artist. Of course I love tattoo, I wouldn’t be here if not. I get to very different things out of being a piercer and being tattooed.

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So in the end, the full body suit project came without notice?

I always imagined have my arms tattooed, considering my musical culture. I was listening to New York hardcore and of course, this imagery influences you. Being tattooed is not an end in itself. Some people think it’s cool being tattooed from head to toe, and some people wake up one morning and are like “Fuck, I’m tattooed from head to toe.” See what I mean? I can’t explain to my parents being tattooed from head to toe is something I like?! It’s hard to put in words, to explain why you like it so much.

I didn’t want too aggressive pieces. And in the end, they’re super trash. It’s brutal at first glance, but if you look closer, you realise it’s full of delicate details. When I was 12, I was 4feet6 and 40kilos and I was getting beat up all the time. Is that why I did it? I don’t think so. Tattoos don’t make you stronger. Did it influence my decision? Of course. But once again, being tattooed is not an end in itself.

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So yes, it does put a barrier between you and people. If because of this, dickheads don’t come bother, it’s rather cool. When you’re covered in tattoos, people think twice before fucking with you. Is it a protecting armour? I kind of think so.

You had a very specific approach when triggering your back project with Keuns…

Keuns is a mate. And I felt like I’d done enough with Remy. Keuns is the guy I’d always bump into at conventions, and I always thought I should get a piece from him. Then one day, I took a train ticket for Poitier and went just to get an appointment. I wanted to go there in person. It’d been a while since I’d been talking about doing something together, and I finally jumped the gun and concretely did it. I gave him 100% freedom…

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I know his approach is pretty radical, you guys meet on that point. How did you feel during the project?

Keuns told me one day: “How’s your back, you’re doing OK?” It’s on my back so I don’t see it, it just stands there, I shut up and live with it. Do I think about it? Absolutely not. Do I enjoy it? Sure, when I see photos of it. When you just got your back ravaged for five hours and go home, thinking it’s great, you just want to be left alone and wonder why you did that. When it starts healing, you think it’s classy. He did what he think was right, and I think it fits me like a glove. I generally think that when the artist completely does his idea, you always get something a notch above the rest. You’re only wearing the tattoo, but you’re the one wearing it. It’s your tattoo, designed for you, nobody else can wear it or live with it the same way.

My back was a torture. So, like with any good tattoo session, you learn a lot about yourself, it’s an introspective moment. My back really wasn’t a piece of cake, it was long and painful. Keuns says there aren’t many clients with my approach, that is I did my back in 11 sessions in 11 months. You go, suffer, and as soon as you start recovering, you go back and do it all over again. And you know Keuns is the kind of artist that when it’s on, you can feel it. I really like his radical approach and personality.

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It’s interesting to see that you also think of long sessions as introspective moments.

Sure, and the more it hurts, the more you learn about yourself. In these moments you know where you are, who you are, and where you’re going. You purposefully go through hell. It’s not to say it’s self-mutilation, because you have to go through this to get the work on your skin. It’s interesting to go beyond your own limits. When you walk from a tattoo, you’re never quite the same. You’ve marked your skin for life and you learn some sort of wisedom from the pain.

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You often told me you’d like your tattoos to be hidden. What did their visibility change for you?

If I had to do it again, would I? Frankly, it’s long, expensive, and it really fucking hurts! If I had to do it again? I probably would! (laughs) But I would probably stop at half sleeves, because when you see a guy wearing a suit and nothing shows, it’s so cool! On the other hand, it’s also really cool when a guy’s wearing a suit and to see stuff popping out everywhere.

Being entirely tattooed is both great and a pain in everyday life. You know, I even saw you evolve and get pretty covered up, but your social life goes on. You meet people that find it cool, come talk to you, and you’re thinking that being tattooed doesn’t make this guy your friend. On the other hand, some people are just obnoxious with you when you could have had an interesting conversation. Being entirely covered is a double edge sword.

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I totally agree with you on the thing with parents. I got tattooed for me, but it wasn’t easy for them to understand. It’s only the day they came to the shop that they realised it was a clean and really cool environment. If I have kids one day, I hope they won’t be covered in tattoos, or if they are, that they did so for the same reason I did and took time to think about it.

I think that as tattooed parents, it is also our responsibility to educate them when it comes to tattoos.

I’m kind of scared about having kids and tattoos. I mean, when your child goes to school, he might not want you to walk him there, because you are covered in drawings and it’s not going to work with the other parents. When actually it’s something you’ve never thought about and never even seen, because you don’t give a shit. But he does and that has an impact on his life and it’s embarrassing to him. Then again, I don’t have kids, I don’t know how it’s going to be. Who knows, maybe they won’t care, especially considering children with tattooed parents are usually much more open-minded. They accept differences a lot better.

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In your opinion, why is it visible tattoos should be earned?

Who am I to tell people a tattoo should be earned and you shouldn’t get hand tattoos? After that, in everyday life… Yes, there is a process to getting tattooed. As long as your arms are not full, don’t start getting hands or neck. When I see these kids with forearms, neck and hands but nothing elsewhere, I’m not a big fan. Getting your hands tattooed is easy, go through other steps before.

I started getting tattooed in 1999 and back then, getting your arms tattooed was really radical. Now, it’s a cool thing being tattooed whereas back then it wasn’t, and when you decided you wanted to do it, you were on your own with that decision. It was a statement. I’m tattooed and I live with it. The guy with a small tattoo just because it’s in fashion, I want to tell him to fuck off. But you know what, I don’t want to be super elitist about it, because in the end anyone can do whatever they want. What I will judge though is the quality of your pieces. Are you looking for someone to get a tattoo or do you want to get a tattoo from that one person? Did you do what you had to do to get that nice piece?

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I know you don’t believe in cover ups either…

Deal with your shit… I don’t have any, all my tattoos were thought out, and I’m pretty proud of them. Every tattoo should be respected.

Like you said, being tattooed is not an end in itself. So do you fear the day you won’t be able to get tattooed anymore?

Who knows, I might completely change my life the day I can’t get tattooed anymore. Maybe it’ll mean it is time to move on to something else, and I’ve done that once already.

Interview & Photos by Celine Aieta – Video and Translation by Grégoire Dyer

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