Filip Leu and family are some of my favorite people in the world. He was one of my first tattoo heroes, so getting to sit and pick his brain for an afternoon was life-changing. Filip’s history and life are the most unique [and inspiring] I’ve yet to encounter along my 12-year journey of documenting and sharing the very best of the contemporary world of tattooing. Filip is one of the most gifted artists our community has ever known; a great many consider this 2nd generation tattooer one of tattooing’s greatest prodigies. Son of Felix (RIP) and Loretta Leu (both artisans who tattooed to support their family and travel the world), Filip is the eldest of many siblings lucky enough to be raised in an incredibly encouraging, profoundly artistic, REAL ‘Tattoo Family.’ Filip got his first tattoo (from his father) around the age of 10. By 13, he was DOING tattoos. GOOD TATTOOS! By 18, he was an international superstar. He had no ordinary childhood.
Filip spent much of that childhood doing his part for the family business- (tracing tattoo designs for the customers of Felix and Loretta), wherever the current base of operations might be for “The Leu Family’s Family Iron” [the company they are famously know as.] At any given time one could have run into the family anywhere from Switzerland to Spain to India to the US and beyond; simply, Filip was raised in art, ink, and blood. His artistic abilities, once apparent, were nurtured and encouraged by both father and mother, providing an environment of healthy growth for their son consisting of constant creativity, travel…and family.
In the late, late 80’s and early 90’s, when his tattoo work first started to hit magazines in the states, he became an instant sensation. Filip, Paul Booth, Guy Aitchison, Marcus Pacheco, Aaron Cain and a handful of other contemporaries were responsible for the biggest explosion of interest in tattooing, ever, (up to that point), inspiring hundreds or thousands (including me) to forego the more traditional routes available to artists at the time, and to give serious thought to pursuing tattooing, instead- not just as a viable career option, but one that could actually offer a work environment of constant creativity. Filip Leu is undoubtably one of the finest and most important artists of this era of tattoo history. He changed the game in many respects, not the least of which was the profoundly evolutionary approach he developed when approaching traditional Japanese tattoo imagery and themes. There’s an entire sub-genre out there known as Euro-Style Japanese; Filip, Mick Tattoo, Luke Atkinson, Lal Hardy, (just to name a few), these were the artists at the forefront of the entire movement, a movement that’s circled the globe, spawned countless imitators, and even cycled back to Japan where their works have impacted a new generation of Japanese tattooers now making this so-called “Euro-look” their own, and going in their own direction; (look for a profile on Shige here, soon).
Filip’s influence is so widespread that for years at a time it was commonplace to pick any ol’ tattoo magazine off the rack and find a Filip Leu tattoo inside…OR…just as often, to find photos of someone else who had straight-up copied one of Filip’s previously published tattoos. It was rampant, and poor (non-tattooing) magazine editors had no idea what they were printing.
This went on for years. An awful lot of other artists I know would have a total conniption over one person daring to post a photo even vaguely similar to a tattoo they’ve done in the past, (in spite of their desire to collect ‘likes’), [*To understand why, read about ‘Tattoo Plagiarism”], but when I asked Filip his feelings on having nearly everything he’s ever created be ‘ripped off’ by other artists, his response was (and still is) the most enlightened I can imagine; it’s stuck with me because I had never really encountered ANY-one (especially amongst artists) so detached from the driven competitiveness of ego.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. ” If people are happy with it, good. Maybe that’s the best they can do. Maybe it will help them become better artists!” “Not every musician becomes a ROCK GOD,” he continued, “most are happy just to be able to play a few songs with friends.” This analogy led us down a discussion of artists in cover bands vs those creating original music- “Shouldn’t artists strive to BE original in the creative process,” I inquired, testing the depth of his argument. “Yes, of course,” he replied, “but how many great guitarists do you think started out just learning to play Black Sabbath’s Iron Man?” “The dedicated ones and the ones with real talent will swiftly grow out of copying someone else’s work to creating their own.”
Wow. I was blown away. As I’d come to learn even more during our 3-4 hour interview, (atop a grassy hill overlooking the countryside, somewhere in rural Switzerland), that’s just the kind of person Filip is, and it isn’t fake; he’s genuine. Since that time I’ve discovered something of a secret: it seems as if all the greatest artists/tattooers/people I’ve met in the world are, simultaneously, the most approachable, the most humble…and grateful…and helpful…to all the people they meet. Filip’s talents are exceptional, even enviable, but it is his commitment to family, to art, and to humanity that are most admirable. Thanks, Filip, for taking the time to open up about your life and career in what is to this day my favorite and most helpful of all the TAM interviews I’ve done. To Loretta, Titine and the whole family- thank you, too, for always making my visits such a joy. I wish you all the best, Leus.
If you EVER get the chance, get a tattoo from Filip. See more of Filip’s amazing tattoo work by ordering TAM #7 HERE on sale for $7.99 in print/$4.99 digital!
OR read his article HERE! 35 pages for just $1.99, (Recommended for fans & pros!) -it could change your life. It did mine, anyway.
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