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SB6 Archive (2012): Hannes & Ennio

19 August 2017

Photography by Dorrell Merritt

What was the starting point for your tattooing journey(s)?
Ennio: For me it was back in 2003 when I got my stars, which were done on my arm at this place in Holborn called Tusk. Then I got even more stars across my body. I had this thing about having five stars, so every group of stars had to be in fives.

The following year I started with Xed and it went on for maybe a year and a half. I went there first with this picture of Escher’s to talk with him about getting a back-piece and he was just like, “No. That isn’t going to work on the back at all; it only works on paper - it doesn’t translate onto skin well at all.” I had some of the stars on my arm and he suggested that we work around them.

I never had to tell him what to do, ever. The good thing with Xed is that he always knows what he is doing and I never had to doubt him. The lines are still perfect after nine years. I then went for my leg, bum and calf and have some writing from him around my neck.

Hannes: I had a tattoo from back when I was sixteen; a really bad one. I wanted to get started for a long time, but I didn’t really like what I had seen before at that time, so I didn’t really know how to approach it. It was about the time we met where I was really thinking about it. I met this French artist called Jon John and I got better idea of how to approach it. When I met Ennio, I had no tattoos but when we came to London and I learnt more, I knew immediately that I was going to go all the way. I started it all around two and half years ago, but in my head I was already completely covered.

What did you have in mind about aesthetics at that point? For instance, did you know that the work was never going to be in colour?
Ennio: I think I have always liked colour on other people, but not on me. I have this fear of one day becoming bored of it. Black for me is more neutral and I feel safer with it. It is timeless to me; it’s striking - 3-D and geometrical stuff in particular. It’s like an armour.

Hannes: It is less decorative and more authoritative - this is how it is and it can’t be questioned,

What about the likes of more conventional approaches to tattooing, such as western traditional or realism? Didn’t those appeal to you?
Ennio: For me, I think it’s because I have seen it so much. I didn’t want to have what everyone has. I started with geometric and stayed with it.

Not having any tattoos at the start, was the element of permanence or the scale ever daunting to you?
Hannes: No; the thing is, I think that if you go for a memento tattoo like your Mum’s Birthplace, or something where you have a very personal meaning attached to it, it can lose its strength quite quickly and becomes something that you can regret just as quick. When you work with the artist and their vision, however, it can become timeless artwork. I’m not scared of the permanence of anything and would never want to get rid of any of my tattoos - apart from the one that I got when I was sixteen!

I’m curious about the direction of your work by Duncan. Did you begin with a certain concept in mind, or was it something that was developed collaboratively?
Hannes: When I first thought about tattooing I saw it as most people do, as something where the individual has to come up with the ideas themselves. What I later realised, was that you have to actually find an artist that you like then have to make the choice with the artist; this idea of a collaboration.

I think the theme generally developed around this idea of a Hero, which I think is inherent throughout his style overall. Battle stuff is there, but there is also a lot of humour in his work. Everything is really raw, but with a touch of humour. A lot of the elements of my sleeve are very ironic because it doesn’t reflect my soft nature at all. I kind of let go of the meaning of it immediately; I never wanted the focus to be on a meaning, or its direct relationship to me personally. It just developed. The first ones I got were the Anchor and the Medal and progressed around that theme. There is some quite dark stuff too: I have a coffin as well as Dread Nought (Fear Nothing) which was done in the same font from the Napoleonic Wars, where the prisoners would carve words into the bones of others who had died.

One of my favourites has to be the bird feet piece we did. The actual story behind it is that Duncan lives in a place where on his terrace these pigeons always walk in the snow during the winter. They were always shitting on his terrace and he absolutely hated them.

"I don’t know how people see me specifically; because when strangers see me they just see tattoos - they don’t see if they are good tattoos, or bad ones. It gives me a bit of an armour; it makes me feel a little bit tougher in a way…"

With Duncan and Xed’s work being so different, how did you create a bridge between the two contrasting styles? What attracted you to either?
Hannes: For me, it was like two sides of the same coin; they both work strongly with blackwork in ways I could relate to as a customer and admirer. As complex as Xed’s work is, it is also very natural and works with the human form interestingly; whereas Duncan’s is bold and full of historical references.

I loved Duncan’s work from the start but wasn’t bold enough to go for him in the beginning and thought his style might be too strong for me.

How do the two compare as practitioners in your eyes and from your experiences?
Ennio: With Xed, his approach to tattooing is very different from Duncan’s, because his work is very much about energy. I once read this interview with him where he spoke a lot about how he transfers, literally, energy into another person and I think for him it is a very personal thing for him to tattoo people. In saying that, Xed likes to talk and joke a lot; people would come over during the session, and you’d always see him with a phone sellotaped to his face. It was like being in a living room.

Duncan, on the other hand, is very quiet, very calm and very painful compared to Xed. I didn’t know, because I started with Duncan and stayed with him a long time before I started with Xed.

So when did you decide that you wanted to continue a tattoo journey as a couple?
Ennio: I think it started from when Hannes got is blackened arm, and then I realised I wanted something similar.

Hannes: It’s not like we look identical, but there is definitely some sort of unison aspect. It’s a bit about becoming one. We are really different as people, but are able to have this one thing of modification, which we share and brings us together.

What tattoos have you both shared?
Hannes: We got guns together; I got a German one and Ennio got an Italian one.
Since the work from Duncan and Xed, we have started tattooing ourselves. I went on a meditation retreat and while I was there I decided that I wanted to start tattooing myself more. Xed actually showed me how to and gave me the tools

Why did you decide to embark on tattooing yourself?
Hannes: It was a few things. Firstly, it was a time when I had run out of money. The first time I realised you could actually tattoo yourself was when I found out about Ferguson: the guy who tattooed himself completely. Then I once saw this guy at yoga and he was completely covered and I asked him how and who did it, and he replied by saying he is doing it himself. I love it so much, so I wanted to give it a go myself. I was talking to Xed and he said to me: it’s not an art, it’s a skill so start learning and come back for more. When I got this black arm I remember saying it was a shame I didn’t have my own machine so I/we could do it ourselves. I’m not afraid of wasting my skin.

When you started your tattoo journey, what did tattooing mean to you?
Hannes: Well I always thought that it was something that cool people did but it was not often that I saw tattoos that I could appreciate. After meeting people like Jon John and Ennio, I began to see good quality work. It’s a very powerful way of transforming into a better version of oneself.

In regards to the transformative power of tattooing, how do you feel you have changed since becoming so heavily tattooed?
Hannes: I think I have become more secure and lost a lot of fear. Once I started getting my neck and hands tattooed, I had to let go of this the idea of being able to work in a conventional job.

Ennio: For me, I feel more confident in myself. Maybe because it’s such a definite thing to do. I don’t know how people see me specifically; because when strangers see me they just see tattoos - they don’t see if they are good tattoos, or bad ones. It gives me a bit of an armour; it makes me feel a little bit tougher in a way…when I see old pictures of myself without tattoos I really don’t like them. I prefer myself with tattoos.

What is the plan now for you guys?
Hannes: I think we will tattoo ourselves for a bit as well as some work by Xed. For me, I really want to get covered. I always feel like this is the beginning.

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