My name is Chaim Machlev, I’m 36 and live in Berlin. I was born in Tel Aviv, where I studied IT and psychology and worked as an IT specialist. Then one day I decided to get a tattoo, and that experience literally changed my life. After spending four days in the desert, to understand who I am and what I wanted from life, I discovered that I needed to leave and follow my endless attraction for tattooing…
This is the beginning of the story that Chaim (tattooist from Dots to Lines) told us when we met him in person. We discovered a very deep and cultured soul, as well as a very skillful tattooist who – as his shop name implies – has made lines become the foundation of his highly refined graphic alphabet.
Read an abstract of the interview by Margherita Baleni (find the full article in this issue of Tattoo Life) and take a look at our selection of mesmerizing tattoos.
How did you decide on your style? Did you do an apprenticeship?
No, nothing, because when I got here I was 31 and I didn’t have any portfolio or experience. When I asked people if I could do an apprenticeship in their studio, they would just laugh at me. But I never gave up. After about six months I’d spent almost all my money, so I started to donate blood to make ends meet, and then I found a guy in a studio who saw how motivated I was. He told me I could just stay there awhile and practice a bit. He was very up front about the fact that he had no intention of sending me clients, but that I could just watch, and also clean the studio. That’s how I began.
As for my style, I’ve always loved Japanese art, but since I’m terrible at drawing, I’ve never been able to create anything figurative; I tried drawing carp for months on end, with no success. So I started to think about what I might be able to create, because I was so compelled to make tattoos. I realized that I was quite good at making geometrical shapes, and that I’m very attracted by that moment in which geometrical shapes seems to come to life, when they take on their own, almost organic shape. I began doing a lot of research on this, and figuring out what I could make. I’d draw very simple subjects on some punk guys in my neighborhood. I also tried to do a few mandalas and mirrored shapes, and worked on symmetry, to make up for my lack of artistic skills. I realized that it would be really interesting to simply draw lines, rather than drawing subjects;
I tried to study the reason why old tattoos worked so well, and what made them so beautiful.
I noticed that the Japanese, Polynesian and Tribal styles are closely connected to how the body moves, and this is why they work well. So I tried to look for energy points on the body and link them to lines and see whether that worked, or not. I also discovered that I could work with the computer to create my own tattoos.
How does your creative process work? Do you start with a certain idea and then try to draw it on the computer?
I don’t prepare anything beforehand, as I said before I try to work directly on the client’s body. First I read the emails I’m sent, and decide whether I can do the tattoo or not, and whether it’s something that I want to do. It’s really difficult for me to do somehting on a person who isn’t willing to discuss it at all. In a sort of ceremonial way, we sit together and try to understand what it is they want, what kind of project they’re thinking about. The first question is: “what do you want to show? Sensuality, power, intelligence, complexity…”. Then I take a photo of their body and try to work directly on that photo on the computer, zooming in and creating a tattoo which might work well with what they want.
I also know that you collaborate with other tattooists, for example Filip Leu and Joao Bosco.Those must be awesome experiences!
There are lots of artists I love, with whom I’d like to collaborate, but I realized the crazier they are, the better. I like it when our styles are different; in fact, our tattoos feel more authentic when our styles are so diverse from one another. With Filip I did a dragon, then a phoenix, and I hope that this winter there will be another project. Filip really inspires me, as a person and artist: he’s really devoted to his work and he’s so patient. He has the right approach to art and respects it. I don’t want to go too far and say that he is the best in this sector, but everyone can definitely learn something from him because he is very humble. I respect him so much. I started getting tattooed by him a year ago – we met in Switzerland in his shop, and it’s as if he entered my life. A lot of artists have treated me differently, compared to him.
That’s a shame, because tattooing is sacred, it’s something that helps us communicate between human beings. When we start communicating, we need to express who we are to others, to define ourselves within a group. Tattoos and art can help you develop this, and these should be collaborative efforts. You may be the best at what you do, unless you meet someone who does something completely different from you. So collaboration is helpful. I experienced this with Filip, and realized that it doesn’t matter if he has been tattooing his entire life and I have only been tattooing for two years. I really felt great doing this project. There weren’t any particular expectations and it wasn’t difficult to do something with him, because he is so collaborative. There’s a strong connection between art and tattooing; tattooing is like regaining control over your body, and placing your trust in someone who helps you express this desire.