We have different views of tattoos. Sometimes, we equate them with hardened criminals in prisons. Or we find them cool because these are associated with rebels or rock stars. However people see it, Filipino-Australian tattoo artist Christian Bulos believes tattoos have significance and context.
“It is cultural identity, as well as self-expression. It is words; it is portraits; it is shapes and shades. It is a mark of inspiration. It is as diverse as art. It is a bond; it is limitless; it is a journey. It is a rite and it is our past. It has always been and it will always continue and people will continue to seek the art, as it is themselves who they search for.”
A profound reflection from an artist who started Black Sparrow Tattoo Melbourne in 2016 after his own journey with ESK Tattoos and Atomic Tattoos, among other studios where he gained his experience.
Christian’s art was discovered by ESK Tattoo’s owner and saw his potential in the industry. Alex, the owner mentored him on the safety and health aspects of tattoos and how to operate the machine. The rest of what he knows was a fruit of his travels to Europe and Asia, attending conventions, self-study and research, specifically on history and art.
Three years down the line, his own practice has grown and the shop now has three full time artists and a couple of apprentices, as well as occasional guest artists from New Zealand, Korea, Philippines, Cook Islands and England.
He shared his experiences with clients like an 81-year old who had her late son’s name tattooed on her forearm as a remembrance or an 18-year old apprentice plumber who got his first full-sleeved. His client base is diverse covering professionals, retirees and what others may find extraordinary is an expansion of female clients seeking to get more tattoos.
Christian comments, “I think they’re just braver and it also goes with the historical traditions that women used to adorn tattoos to attract men. It was also a fashion statement even back then, although it was more than that. It also represents a rite of passage and a coming of age.”
From studies, he learned that “historically, women get their first tattoo when they get their first menstrual cycle in contrast to men having their first tattoo done once they have proven themselves in either hunting or being able to defend their village from enemies.”
His client’s choice for what to have tattooed on their skin is also as varied as their profiles. But Christian introduces his own signature, a style he has developed as a confluence of studies, research and his own interaction and experiences with them.
Sometimes the clients initiate an idea and it’s up to Christian to translate and execute it, while others get what is termed flash or ready-made designs for events like Friday the 13th, Valentine’s Day or Halloween. But more and more, clients become inclined to choose from Christian’s own portfolio of artwork.
The same creative output he recently brought back to the Philippines for an exhibition for art students and enthusiasts.
For some time, Christian’s work was featured in an exhibit called Transition (From Paper to Skin) at Galleria Alvaro in Quezon City. He explained, “It’s mainly made up of works on paper with a style called pointillism using fine line pens and design sketches with pencils.” Some of the artwork were sold and the enthusiasm and interest shown by the audience, according to Christian, opened opportunities to go back home and mount similar events.
While his exhibit was cut short due to logistical concerns, it gave him the opportunity to go on a trek to the home of Apo Whang Od, the last mambabatok of the Kalingas. (See Christian’s narration on page 17).
Christian’s style is drawn towards more tribal black work and geometric shapes with deep meanings and symbolic attributes. While he dabbles also in minimalism with his own creative spin, lettering or scripts and small works which he believes keep his skills grounded, he is drawn to his preferences because of their interplay with other art forms he enjoys. He loves researching on cultures connected with jewelry, textiles, architecture, and specific tattoo designs that “hold significant meanings in each shape.”
For those contemplating on getting their first tattoo or adding on to existing ones, Christian advices think, research and get to know the artist. “Make sure that what you get resonate with you and that do not ever be under pressure in making a decision to get one.”
For future artists, his wise counsel brings back to his intent—about the tattoo being art and passion. “It is sacrifice, patience, research, patience, determination, patience, discipline, patience, being humble, patience, understanding of history, patience. You cannot rely on talent alone, perseverance, hard work and determination. Passion is the drive but patience is the key.”
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