Let’s get to know Jeroen Franken, a tattoo artist who lives and works in Eindhoven (in Holland). In this interview he tells us about his style, which only seems to be “Tribal” on the surface: the tattoos he does, inspired by nature and architecture, are actually powerful abstract, surreal compositions.
Hi Jeroen, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hey guys, I am a tattooer living in Eindhoven with my wife Kim-Anh who is also a tattooer. We have a private atelier where we do our tattoos by appointment only. Besides tattooing I
used to travel the globe and still do now at times when the time is right. Looking for ways to express, outside and inside of myself. I am trying to soak up experiences that I can use to put towards my visual creativity. Experiences can come from basically anywhere in nature for me and these I look to shape into an abstract image. I definitely prefer abstract over realism. However, surrealism does invade my work by means of levels of consciousness.
When did you start tattooing?
Professionally I started tattooing in 1997 as an apprentice at the original Hanky Panky’s in Amsterdam. Before that time I had already worked in two tattoo shops as well as at home in my single room. However, the very first tattoos I made were in the jungles of Borneo at the beginning of 1996.
How would you define your style?
To label my style is a tricky one these days. In general I guess it would be called Tribal. Or at least in the first ten years of this century, but these days who knows. For me, some of the tattoos I do are definitely Tribal in appearance. They surely are very closely inspired by what the tribe in question used to design at a certain point in time. Some may appear to be Tribal in appearance but are not. Since I do use a fair amount of designs that spring from my studying nature and architecture, it is hard to call this Tribal.
Anyway, I found that the word tribal, as well as many other words, are often randomly used.
So here is the definition of tribe according to the Cambridge dictionary: a group of people, often of related families, who live together, sharing the same language, culture, and history, especially those who do not live in towns or cities.
Has it changed over time?
Over time, as I submerged myself in my arts, I have become more deeply rooted in subject matters and aesthetic matters. So over the years there has been a lot of fine tuning besides the sporadic transgression of boundaries. So I would say that it is constantly changing. Sometimes transgressing boundaries, and sometimes falling back on older ideas. This is part of how I have always approached tattooing and life so maybe nothing has changed in that respect. Either way, I like to constantly search but can get lost in the search sometimes. At those times it is nice to fall back onto conventional ways.
Is it important for you to also paint and draw, besides tattooing?
I love to paint and draw, it gives more freedom. Freedom within the confinement of the space we have built in our heads according to the inputs of our surroundings. At times I feel surreal when drawing, tapping into that seemingly unconscious stream and just letting flow whatever needs to come out. Other times there are no open channels and you just stare at a blank page while nothing wants to find its way onto that piece of paper. For sure, you can always scribble something on that blank paper but the intensities tend to differ. To paint and draw besides tattooing also gives a window of opportunity to learn, try out, research, fine tune, and so on.
What are your favourite subjects and techniques?
I love anything with triangles. For me a triangle is the most sacred shape that is just perfect for tattooing whether manually or electrically. Also I love black, and lines, and the right amount of contrast between these that eventually fulfil the wishes of the customer. I love to work with brushes but often just pick up an array of pens and markers as it is easier on some fronts, for example when travelling. With a brush there is so much motion possible, giving surprising shapes and thus character and soul to a line.
I love to take a brush and just make whatever shapes on paper, just feeling the brush and seeing what it can do without the need to necessarily create a specific target.
Just making shapes, reacting to these shapes, ending up in multiple layers, overlapping, sitting on top of each other. Unfortunately I have not painted with acrylics on canvas for a long time. For me, this requires more preparation, not only time but also in terms of mental preparation. The last two months with the lockdown we have had would have been a good period to start up again. However, I guess the time wasn’t right yet.
Where did the idea of this eBook come from?
The idea came from Miki asking me. Some of the designs are not really for tattooing, and some are specifically for tattooing. Some of the designs were actually designed for the last London Convention I participated in. Those would be the round ‘marquesas’ influenced designs. They are easy to do in one go for the collector that just wants a smaller tattoo in a specific style. But I did forget to take them to the convention. The Borneo designs were mostly done when Kim-Anh and me were in Texas visiting Thomas Hooper last year. He just loves Borneo too, so there was real good energy flowing to create.
What are your projects for the future?
For a good many years I was doing too many projects besides tattooing so I cut back on all of them to focus my energy primarily back into the act of tattooing. That being said, my wife and me are currently making t-shirts, hoodies and some accessories. For so many years customers have been asking for them so we thought it was time to make some. So now we are making small runs and doing a different design for each run.