Photos & interview by Ino Mei
Reblogged from: heartbeat ink.gr
Humble, experienced and gifted with valuable knowledge of the classic Oriental tattoo, Mike The Athens gave Heartbeatink an exclusive interview about his 24 year-old career and his presence in the international tattoo scene.
How did you come up with the name “Mike The Athens”?
It came from a typographical error, which occurred in the 90’s in Miki Vialetto’s article, on Tattoo Planet. Instead of “Mike from Athens”, he wrote “Mike The Athens” and the nickname stuck (laughs).
When was your first contact with tattoos?
Since I was very young, I thought tattoos were alluring. I was excited by the idea of tattoo from a very young age. I started as a collector. Around the age of sixteen, I used to visit Jimmys’ studio, the only one that existed back then, once or twice a month, to decide which tattoo I wanted. At some point, I made my decision and just like that, I got my first tattoo. The next one I got was done by Bugs in Camden, who was then considered to be the best tattoo artist in Central London. We were a group of friends; one of them grew up to be the future Yorg. These were the days (the 80s’) of true originality. Back then the only ones who were getting tattoos done were the bikers, the rock ’n’ rollers and the greasers. No posers and new-school guys. It wasn’t a trend. Tattooing was quite underground, even misunderstood sometimes.
From then on, I really started getting into it. I got myself a tattoo machine and I “added” some elements on the first tattoos of my friends. Ever since I was a child I loved painting, my grandfather was a painter, plus I was interested in painting and designing as far as tattoos were concerned. Then, after that, I dropped everything. I quit my studies in English Literature at the University of Athens, where I studied and right afterwards I went to the army in order to complete my “duty” there. I met a guy who had a home–made tattoo machine. From the moment I took it in my hands, I improved it with a rotring rapidograph that existed back then in order to use it as a tube and also used a bending fork as a base for the motor. The ink I used was of course rotring. That’s how they used to do it in jail, but of course I wasn’t aware of that; I was just guided by intuition and I was good at mechanics.I covered this guy up with tattoos, outlines only. He gave me some as well and that’s when I really started taking an interest in it.
When did you become a professional tattoo artist?
In 1989, after being encouraged by friends who wanted me to give them tattoos. I never went after it on my own. However, in the end I was mesmerized by the tattoo itself… I started with large cover ups and tribals. It’s really important to say that, at the time, there was no access to information when it came to tattooing. Everything was done either by books, or by visiting a tattoo place yourself, and of course there were no tattoo suppliers. I found Alex Binnie in a book; I had no idea who he was, I liked his tattoos so I sent him a letter (there was no email back then) to get him to give me a tattoo.
So, that’s how I tentatively entered “Into You” for the first time to get a tattoo done by Binnie, my first serious tattoo. We met and there was some great chemistry between us, he saw my work of the past six years, he liked it and he offered me a job as a guest (tattooer). He was planning to go to New York for a while and I would fill in for him in a way. So I moved to London and I became the main guest artist of Into You for two years. Ever since, I belong to the Into You tattoo family. There is a strong bond among us;it’s not coincidental that Tas (Danazoglou) works there now. Every time I go to London, the only studio I work for is Into You, and all of my friends and my tattoo family works there as well.
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