Henning Jørgensen is 50 years old and has been tattooing for 32 years. That’s one year less than I’ve been alive. Royal Tattoo (his shop) has been open in Helsingør for 28 years and 26 of those years in the current location.
I was five years old when it opened…
I sit here in the midst of its history. While Henning works away upstairs like a madman at peace, with a serene fire raging inside him. His eyes are clear and aware, he sees things and remembers them, puts them into motion. When he leaves the shop he heads home to his family, his wife and daughters. His tattoos are flawless, his technique and approach is the same. But there’s a humility and open attitude to his approach, he asks opinions on color combinations and is eager to hear drawing formulas.
That fire inside is directed towards the craft and it lights up the world around him. The guys in the shop say that when Henning is away on a trip, the shop gets really quiet, people don’t come in as they normally do, he has a presence that pulls people in, like a campfire draws people around it for warmth and companionship.
With his slicked back hair and charming personality he’s built a shop like a castle and he’s welcomed people from the world over to work and visit, the entire crew is international. Not one person other than Henning and the three shop girls (Saphira, Ea and Sarah) is from Denmark. Beppe Shiro is from Italy, Lobiño is from Brazil, Theo Maurin is from France, Ron Koupal is from Arizona and Danny Chan’s from Los Angeles (Danny’s dad was in Goonies)… All of them through whatever paths led them this way had come out to work with Henning and just didn’t want to leave or work anywhere else. Royal has been an institution that welcomes the international community to come and sit at the table, to enjoy the fellowship of family we never knew we had and some of us maybe don’t deserve.
The shop is two levels, Henning and Beppe work upstairs, behind the front desk, they work side by side. Large window panes look out at the street and the trees swaying in the wind, people walk by bundled up to protect themselves from the bitter cold, a graveyard lies across the street, holding the bodies of Helsingør’s past. A half block away is a tombstone shop, selling and carving headstones. There are four work stations downstairs, which is where I’m working.
The walls are clean and white, the floors sparkle. Memories of years past adorn the walls: a personalized drawing from Ed Hardy to Henning, paintings given as gifts on the occasion of anniversaries, paintings from Mike Rubendall, Joel Long, Eckel, Filip Leu, Paul Jeffries, Bert Krak, Marius Meyer, Rob Abel, Dana Helmuth etc…
After all of these years, the shop runs like a smooth machine. Nothing is left to chance, things work the way they should. All of the systems in place work seamlessly and make for an easy environment to work in. The other day I was painting some flash downstairs and I would walk upstairs every hour or so to take a breather and see what was going on.
Henning was working on three different people throughout that day, all the while He worked away focused upon the pigment smeared skin task under his hands. Which is what most of us do, but what makes it different, when watching him, is that he’s been at it since most of us were whacking off to our moms lingerie catalogues. Yet he still works harder and with more intensity than the majority.
To sit in the shop and work is to be a microscopic molecule of a large organism, just a footnote in history. The stream of people who have come through these doors is mind-blowing – 28 years of sharing, of friendship and work. It’s not like Denmark is the closest place to visit and Helsingor itself, isn’t a huge draw for tourism (it’s about a 40 minute ride on the train from Copenhagen) – besides Elsinore castle (where Shakespeare’s Hamlet took place). There’s only one reason for all of these people who have made the journey here and that’s the man himself. Before I even dreamt of my first kiss or losing my virginity and blowing my wad or having an ex-wife this shop was rolling along. Henning was working, studying and making connections.
The town is small and quiet. The cobble stone streets and sidewalks lead me past leaves turning, red, yellow, orange, green and brown under the sheet of slate grey sky, past buildings that look like castles, past Danish families living peaceful lives. For being so close to the sea, the wind doesn’t tear though the town, it whispers. It’s bitter cold and getting colder everyday. The grocery store shuts down at 8, restaurants at 10. It’s easy to settle down here, to slow down and focus on work.
I’ve been working hard, when I’m not tattooing, I’m painting or drawing. The modern distractions are still here, just as everywhere else. It’s easy to lose yourself on the computer or to veg out in front of the television, that’s just the blessing and the curse of the times we live in. But these streets hold something special if I look with the right eyes, something peaceful and melancholy which is only intensified by the grey skies and cold air.
This is a royal town, Shakespeare knew it and documented it, inscribed it on paper. Henning knows it and lives it. He’s inscribed it in skin, along with his crew on the people who have come through these doors over the past 28 years.
Here’s a list of people who have come out to work out Royal Tattoo over the years: Paul Jeffries, Trevor McStay, Mike Rubendall, Robert Atkinson, Jason Kundell, Eddie Deutsche, Scott Sylvia, Juan Puente, Valerie Vargas, Stewart Robson, Mo Coppeletta, Tim Lehi, Grime, Ami James, Marco Serio, Augustin Cavallieri, Kian Forreal, Chisaki, Salvio, Pierre Chapellan, Cory Norris, Mike Godfrey, Dax Lobo, Enma Kierzek, Jake Fraser, Seth Arcada, Dan Sinnes, Jean Luca, Inma, Frederico, Aaron Bell, Aaron Kewit, Kevin Leblanc, Marius Meyer, Danny Novaiis, Norbert, Andreas, Rex Schwinn, Andy Kennan, Adam Kills, Theo Jak, Mikki Fogge, Soap, Rose Hardy, Cliffe Clayton, Dan Anderson, Jonny Cole, Erica Sandy, Max Stalhammer, Don Yarin, Miss Nikki, Lucas Ford, Joe Wang and Joel Ang, Eric Reith, Rinto, Luke Atkinson, Eric Blaire… I’m honored and humbled to add my name to that list.
Thanks for reading,
JTG - November, 2011. Helsingør, Denmark.