26 Jul Black N Gold Artist Profile: Enzo Barbareschi
In the next installment of our Artist Profile Series, we popped into Black Dog Studios in Norwich to catch up with Enzo Barbareschi. A native of Naples, Enzo is a veteran tattooist with over 25 years of experience and is reknowned across the continent for his Japanese work. We got the low down on how he got into the community, what his take on modern tattooing is and where he sees himself in the future.
How long have you been tattooing?
I started tattooing in 1993, pretty much self-taught.
What got you into tattooing in the first place?
My process at the time was like a lot people in the early 90s. I had a starter kit from Spaulding and Rogers, but I couldn’t really get hold of it very easily, I didn’t know where to go.
So, I had some relatives in the united states and my auntie ordered it from a magazine, then brought it with them when they came to visit, along with a book that explained how to tattoo. An amazing book actually called the “Tattooing A-Z”. But at the time I couldn’t speak any English! I couldn’t read anything; I couldn’t understand anything. I could look at the pictures, but it wasn’t enough.
So I started trying on myself, on some friends, on girlfriends. Mainly on myself. And I thought I was good, but obviously I had no idea. The machines were like toys, you couldn’t really do anything with them.
I didn’t even know it was a job, I wasn’t interested in having a job or making money from it, I just wanted to tattoo myself. As soon as I found out I could have a drawing on me that doesn’t go away, no matter what, I was like, “I’m into this, I want to tattoo myself”.
Where was your first studio?
My father was a hairdresser and he had a little saloon, so I set up my studio in the basement. It was nothing like a tattoo studio, it looked like a mad scientist’s lab, it was terrible and filthy. But it was my place and I loved it.
I learned there, just from tattooing people. In a way it was harder because you didn’t have access to much information, but on the other hand it was easier because the competition was very little, and if you could draw that was a great ace up your sleeve.
You just had to know a little bit more than the others and everyone would come to you to get tattooed, and I was pretty well known for a kid that’s just starting.
What’s your take on modern tattooing?
There’s a lot of younger people now who look at my work and say “oh, you’re still doing big bold lines or shading, or Japanese that leaves the skin open. That’s the old way, it’s not modern”.
They do more Avant Garde now, they do water colour splashes, hyper realism, a rose that has like 10 shades of colours to make it look like a picture, and they say that’s the more modern way. But the thing is the photos of these pieces look great because they’ve just been done, it’s a fresh tattoo. In 3 months, it’s not going to look like that. Maybe it will still look good, but for sure it’s going to look different.
There are things I tried to do when I was learning. I was really into realism because I liked illustration a lot, and fantasy art, that’s what I wanted to do. So being trained in illustration I’d do intricate pieces like snakes where every scale is perfectly shaded and things like that. But then people would come back a year or so later and the tattoo would look really faded. You can spend 10 hours on a tattoo but then eventually all you see is like, 2 colours. So there’s no point of doing 6 gradiations of one colour if at the end you’re only going to see 2 or 3.
But I don’t wanna be the moany old guy who always says the shame shit, I appreciate the artistic quality that goes into making a tattoo look like a photograph, it’s really hard and really impressive.
You do predominantly Japanese tattoos, what attracts you to to the style?
I like drawing, I like to come up with my stuff. That’s probably why I like Japanese a lot. First of all you’ve got line, black on the background, colour on the subject. Simple as that. You don’t need millions of grey shadings and different colours to make it look 3D. Japanese isn’t about that. Mainly it works better with big tattoos like sleeves and bodysuits, and I really like that. It involves composition and it takes a long time to do, so you get to see it healed. If it takes a year then you see it a year healed and you know there’s no bullshit, that’s what it’s going to be.
Which Black N Gold products do you use and how long have you been using them for?
I used the disposable grips, the carbon fibre ones. It’s very clever, it works really well. Cos you have some problems with other disposables. The plastic bends and then when you put tension on the needle when you’re tattooing and using a very heavy machine, then it’s a disaster. The machine can overheat, and you can’t tattoo really well. I don’t think you can beat stainless steel, but those grips with the carbon fibre are the perfect in-between.
The quick lock tubes are amazing, they’re very comfortable. It’s so easy to change the tip it gives you a lot of freedom, it’s very versatile.
It’s been very good for me to use Black N Gold, because they’ve opened up a new world of rotaries. I tried direct drives before and I just couldn’t get along with them. Then I tried the Black N Gold one and now it’s the only machine I want to use! I really like it; it works well for me. It’s amazing, it’s great, I recommend it to all of my friends.
I’ve been using them a few years now, since I moved back to England after some time back in Italy.
Do you have a favourite piece that you’ve done?
There’s one sleeve that stays in my heart, it’s one I love very much. It’s the first time I’ve done something and its looked exactly the way I wanted it to look, a sleeve with a Japanese ghost.
Then there are three back pieces that I like very much. One is on a tattooist that I met in Norwich who’s an amazing artist, and when he said that he wanted his backpiece done by me I was so flattered. When a great artist says they want you to do a big piece for them like that, then you realise you must be doing something right.
Another one is on another good friend, also an amazing tattoo artist. To this day it’s probably the most difficult tattoo that I’ve had to do. It’s a backpiece that’s only black and grey, it’s just waves with a massive Japanese rock in the middle.
That was really hard, the hardest tattoo I’ve ever had to do, and I’m very grateful to my friend to let me do it.
I learned a lot from doing it. I learned how much better you can make stuff like that work when you draw it on the skin instead of stencilling it, and I learned to use the big groups of needles because I’d never done that before. I still don’t prefer big groups of needles, over 17, but I used 23 on his back and it was a good learning experience.
He’s very happy with his tattoo, and that means a lot to me.
What is it that brought you to Black Dog over a different studio?
It’s about friendship and where you feel comfortable. I met John (Longstaff – shop owner) in London and that was a very key moment in my career. Before then I had a slightly different attitude towards how to work. I started to push things a bit more when I met him.
I was used to being the experienced tattoo artist who was showing other people how to do things. I wanted to work with someone that was better than me, and I could just look at John when he was working and see that he was amazing.
I realised that this guy really knows something, so I went where he was working because they had a vacancy, and when I got it, they told me that it was because John was leaving and I’d be taking his place!
When that shop closed my wife and I decided that London wasn’t for us anymore, so I called John and he said he had a place for me, so we came to Norwich and realised how good it would be for our family. I’ve been here at Black Dog since the first day, which is 6 years now.
It’s good, I feel at home, I feel comfortable and I feel part of a family. We get loyal customers here, people come in and get a small tattoo and its almost guaranteed that they’re going to end up coming back for a big tattoo. I think it’s because we have fun, I get along with my customers. We become friends with the people that come here, and I really look for that connection.
What does the future look like for you?
I don’t really have plans for the future. I want to paint more, I love painting. The things that I draw for tattoos, I want to put them more into paintings and do a bit more of that.
Sometimes I think about having my own shop again, but I don’t know. My dream is to one day have an amazing garden where I’m going to put an office and a private studio, tattooing from there. But that means being there on my own, and maybe that’s not good because I really like to be on my own, which is a problem because then you end up always being on your own. I’d end up like a bear in a cave!
I’ve been working on a sketch book. I’ve been trying to fill up this old book with paintings of stuff that I’d like to tattoo, studies for me to learn, that kind of thing, and when I finish it I’m going to try and publish it. I’m not forcing it; I’m not going to try and do it every day because that’s not how I like to do things. I could do 20 pages in one day, or 1 page in 20 days, that’s me. I set myself the beginning of 2020 for it to be finished, and I’m almost half way now. So that’s an exciting thing to look forward to in the future.
I just want to keep things the same and live in this environment. Family, friends, tattooing. Every day of my life feels amazing! I get up and can’t wait to come to work, and after a day of working I’m so happy and I get to go home and see my family, then spend some time waiting for the next day to be amazing again. I just feel so lucky.