It’s always fun to discover what attitudes tattooists have about the great art and tattoo masters. Because as you listen to them talk, you can see which interesting aspects have definitely influenced their work. This is exactly what happened when we spoke with Samuele Briganti, a great interpreter of traditional. While he is devoted to this style, at a certain point he decided that the experience of the great masters needs to be put aside, because emulating someone else can become more destructive than constructive.
Read an abstract of the interview by M. Baleni, which you can find here
Let’s start with your latest lifestyle change: the choice to move to Florence and leave Orbetello behind, the city where you developed as a tattooist.
I came to that decision over time, because when I started to travel for the first time and leave Orbetello for New York or London to do guest spots, I was always happy to return home because I really appreciated the relaxed atmosphere, without chaos. But later, after leaving home so many times, I got used to the big cities. Actually, the opposite thing happened during my latest trips: when I got home I had to admit that I was living in such a small place. So I started to seriously consider the idea of moving to a larger city, and then made my choice by elimination: I know Rome really well because my entire family lives there, I have lots of ties with artists, and I’ve always worked there, but it’s a rather challenging city, too much for me. And so I thought of going to a more central area – since my clients come from all over Italy and abroad – and chose Florence. It’s an international city, but really livable and people-oriented. It was the right place for me. I was looking for a mix between a good quality of life and plenty of stimulation. And Florence offers so much, especially from the standpoint of art.
Could you describe your studio for us?
It’s a very traditional shop, created to respect Florence’s history and art. It’s also traditional in its mood: I tried not to use materials that are too new, for example. There’s a beamed ceiling from the 1500s, so I found part of the furnishings at Florentine antique shops.
The interior design is minimal, but the walls are full of flash, so there’s a very strong 1930s Americana feel to the place, even though it respects the place where I live.
Let’s talk about your tattoos. I’d like to start with a curiosity. Outside of your black outlines you often put a line or flash of bright color. Why is that?
Good question! At first I used shades of red or blue in some areas outside of the lines, to create contrast and balance the tonalities used in the composition. Then I transformed this shading into a second outline, which often recaptures the color gradient of the central part of the subject. For example, in compositions with a sailing ship, the sea, and a sunset, I’ll repeat the sunset’s yellow/orange/red colors outside of the lines. Over time this became a feature of mine and I like it, so I often use it. Using the same method of balancing colors, sometimes I’ll add some more elements, like flowers, because this allows me to use tonalities which differ from the heart of the subject.
Often the main theme of my illustrations includes the use of warm and traditional colors, so to complete the color palette, I’ll add leaves and flower petals whose cooler tonalities create a nice contrast.
In the past six, seven, or eight years, how has your tattooing changed? Your style…
A lot has changed, because technically I use more solid lines now, while before I’d use thinner needles. Before I used to make very flat traditionals with three colors, because I was caught in that limbo where folks doing traditional weren’t supposed to use more than those three colors. You see the flash by Bert Grimm and other masters from the past who’ve inspired me only those three colors. So if me and my friends who were using that style used other colors, we risked being accused of violating those old flash somehow.
For example, blue wasn’t even considered. That was a world made up of boring rules. So eventually the first thing I changed was the color palette.
When did you feel like you could change it?
I started to change everything in 2008/2009. A big change for me was when I stopped using books to reference my work. Before, I would look at books and copy pieces as well as I could, but then I closed the books and started to build subjects by trusting my memory. Obviously, the process of memorizing a drawing and then redoing it doesn’t allow you to be 100% faithful to that drawing, so all the small “defects” ended up becoming distinctive features of mine. The choice of colors was highly influenced by what was around me; living by the sea, I’ve been lucky enough to watch so many sunsets. The terrace of my old studio faced Orbetello’s lagoon, and while I drew I couldn’t help but be amazed by all those colors. So I decided to use them in my tattoos. Even the silhouettes that I’ve used so much in my compositions were nothing more than the people I’d seen walking by the sea, backlit. At the moment I’m trying not to use silhouettes anymore, because I have different input and inspirations now, and compositions like that don’t allow me to experiment anymore. But it isn’t always easy to move away from a formula you really like.
Have you ever worked at another job?
No, not really, because I started to tattoo at home, at the end of middle school. At the time I used tools that weren’t top-notch – a machine that I’d built myself, and sometimes I’d tattoo by hand. Then I started the artistic High School and in order to earn five million lire – the money I needed to buy myself a proper tattooing kit – I worked for a blacksmith during the summer vacation. I just kept going, until I’d earned all the money. I have to say that I fell in love with that type of work because it was fascinating to work with iron, so I’d even go to work on Sundays. When my kit finally arrived, I just couldn’t believe it. And I haven’t done anything else except tattoo, since then.
So you’re a pure tattooist?
Yeah, because even though I also paint, I paint tattoos.