Lahhel left Paris, and a career as an art director, in order to dedicate himself to his greatest passion: tattoo. He moved to Bordeaux, a city he loves, to open Baron Noir Tattoo Studio. Let’s find out more about his choices, work and style – which he defines as “Architectural” but also “Ornamental, Graphic, Blackwork, Medieval, Sacred Geometry, or maybe a little bit of all of them”… Find out more in this interview!
Hi Lahhel, would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello everyones, I am Lahhel, a French tattoo artist. I’m 34 years old. I live in Bordeaux where I have my shop: Baron Noir Tattoo.
When did you start tattooing and what have been the most important steps of your career so far?
I started tattooing 5-6 years ago. Before that I was working in the advertising industry as an artistic director. But I hated this job and I hated living in Paris. So I came back to my south of France where I come from. I have to admit that I started tattooing a little bit randomly. I was drawing quite a bit and my little sister suggested to me to start tattooing. Of course Ii had some tattoos and I already liked this world but I never considered becoming a tattooist.
So I went to the famous shop in my “home sweet hole” city (Pau) and began as an apprentice because I really didn’t want to be a scratcher.
I started to see if I could like this job. To be honest, at the beginning I was very doubtful. But I developed an absolute passion for it very quickly!
What I loved above all was the how much room there is for improvement. So I dived into it very quickly 100%. I moved from my town to another shop quite fast to another little southern town.
Then I moved again to Barcelona to work in the Meatshop where I learned a lot despite the particular context in this shop… so when I left I knew that I wanted my own shop here in Bordeaux. Its a big city but I really love it. There is very good weather. Wine of course, great gastronomy, the ocean, backcountry and nature are really close by. I have here everything I need to feel great! There is also a lot of beautiful buildings and a lot of old villages with wonderful architecture (Saint Emillion, for example). Nevertheless, I keep travelling to do some guest spots or conventions. I don’t want to bury myself here in my shop. It’s too important for me to keep learning and meet new people with whom I can think about art.
What about your style? How would you define it?… Has it changed over time?
I could define my style as “Architectural” I think. But in reality it’s more complicated. I don’t really know where I can put myself. Ornamental, Graphic, Blackwork, Medieval, Sacred Geometry, maybe a little bit of all of them.
When I started tattooing, I was a huge fan of an English illustrator called Iain Mac Arthur. I liked the rigour of the lines and the graphical side of the mandalas and other ornaments. But at the beginning, I had to learn a little bit of all the tattoo techniques. It’s very important I think to know how to do colours, Realism, Old School, and so on. My senseï did well by making me learn all of them. But of course, very quickly, i came back to my first love, mandalas and sacred geometry. I think I found the technical approach very interesting and I quickly preferred to ink a body in an abstract way than the illustrative one. So the mandala “hype” was really okay for me at that time!
Little by little, something strange happened. I didn’t feel like it was legit any more to be doing Buddhist mandalas. I really like this culture, but it’s not mine, that’s all. So Ii started looking for new tricks, new patterns, and I started hiding some architectural details in my mandalas. I really liked that aesthetic but I really thought too that nobody would wanted to have churches and stuff inked on them…
But actually, clients started to ask me specifically for those details that i failed to hide!
This is when I understood that religious architecture does not belong to the religious! No need to be Christian to love this legacy. It’s cultural, it’s our history. And my clients are a very good proof of it too! There are not only architects, they can be atheists or Christians, or stone carvers, or just architecture lovers, or history lovers.
Maybe they have been fascinated by a place, or some old stones, or maybe they want to ink their childhood village, or their grandmother village, or whatever. There are so many ways to be attached to architecture. It’s a geographical anchor. It’s a way for us as human beings to belong to a place. In every culture. So this new style came to me. Instead of doing mandalas, I started doing cathedral roses, which are basically our mandalas. Then I bought a bunch of architectural books to have more references, and references not coming from Instagram, gosh it’s so good!!!
I have always been a history nerd. I love medieval culture and aesthetics. From the real ones to the heroic fantasy ones in books, role play or video games. I prefer a million times to visit Winchester Abbey than the fake Las Vegas. (actually, you would have to tie me up to bring me to Las Vegas!!!). I think it’s very interesting though to see how many tourists come here to admire our buildings when the majority of French people pass in front of it without noticing it any more, jaded that we are…
We should consider how lucky we are to live in those fantastic places where even a simple balcony has beautiful forged iron hinges.
We keep looking for exotic aesthetics when our ancestors have created some absolutely incredible pieces of art that keep leaving me speechless sometimes. This is why I feel very close and connected to Polynesians tattooists or with a Japanese tattooist who will do some traditional Japanese style. They understand their artistic legacy and their history runs into their blood. I respect all of them. None is better or more valuable. It’s all about my feeling of being legit whether it’s rational or not. I need it to be able to create. And trust me, when you start to learn how to look or just when you take the time to look up, we realize that we are very lucky to live into some very culturally rich and marvellous countries (England, France, and of course Spain and Italy, and so on…).
To come back to tattoo, my first challenge was to find some solutions to make lines that straight and vertical work on bodies that are neither straight nor flat! A lot of experimentation of course, lot of reasoning, some secret techniques too…(smiles)
I tried very hard to transcribe this very detailed Gothic aesthetic, but also the impact of this art.
The strong and colossal side, very impressive without being too heavy. I love this iconographic style. I think its very powerful. Someone told me once that it’s almost sad to put something that straight on a body that is not, but on the contrary, I think that when it’s well done, it’s fascinating to see it moving and coming to life!
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
I think maybe I’ve told you enough about it? (smiles) But for real, it’s every place where people have expressed their art. A mosque, a synagogue, a temple, a ruin, an architectural creation, sometimes even a forest can give me chill bumps. Maybe I just love to be crushed by those elevated feelings. Inspiration is everywhere! I just have to travel a bit… So sad…(laughs)
Would you like to tell us something about your studio? Who works with you and what is the atmosphere in the shop like?
Well my shop is called Baron Noir Tattoo. It’s pretty much a part of the city. There are only two of us, my apprentice (Claire Testore) and I. Plus a guest spot. We are lucky enough to have a lot of good guests coming here. The atmosphere in the shop is about candlesticks, traditional music (Heilung, Peter Gundry, etc…) and old stone on the walls.
And what about the tattoo scene in Bordeaux?
Actually I’m quite new here. I opened my shop only two years ago. So I don’t know a lot about here. It’s like every big city I guess. Some people are awesome, some are sadly way less awesome… Let’s focus on the cool ones!
What’s your relationship with your clients? What do you like to talk about with them?
Actually I love long talking. I love clever people and clever conversation. This is a great good fortune that I have. My clients are the best. We share so many things of course. When you want to get inked with some architecture, you will have the same focus topic as I. Metal music or travelling, or poetry or cinema, or art in general, or so many more. As long as we do not talk about reality shows or politics and that they are open minded with a sense of dark humour (sometimes very, very borderline!!!)…
What are your plans for the future?
Survive the Covid… (I will reschedule my guest spot in London, which I should have done during the lockdown. I will be coming to Parliament tattoo).
Is there anything you want to add before we wind up?
Let’s try to be original. Tattoo is an art, not an industry… Thank you so much!