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Words James Sandercock - Pics Ueo

An Italian living in Switzerland inspired by the art of Japan is one of those lovely cocktails that the tattoo world is so good at serving up. Ueo freely admits that he is influenced by the masters of traditional Japanese tattooing and its modern interpretation, but he is going his own way and taking his own time to develop his unique 'Ueo Japanese Style'. As his portfolio of large-scale work grows, so does his reputation. It was time for Total Tattoo to find out more about this driven artist.
"From very early on in life I was headed in the direction of art and design," Ueo tells me. "My favourite way to spend an afternoon was doing graffiti and skateboarding with my friends. I went to tho Brera Art Academy in Milan when I was 19, but I still regard graffiti as my fundamental art education. All those early experiences helped me to develop my artistic abilities - so now, in my adult life, I am able to make a design out of anything that appears in my mind, even abstract shapes and concepts. Street art gave me a way to conceive images and colours. It will remain in my heart forever. I'll never stop writing on walls!"

I ask Ueo what brought him to tattooing. "Street art, of course!" is his answer. "It gave me the push to learn how to draw and how to mix colours, but it also allowed me to discover my deep passion. At first I was tattooing in the back of my grandfather's shoe shop - he was a cobbler - then after a few months Max Infernoink became my teacher. He decided to bring me with him into the tattoo world and teach me the basics of 'drawing on skin'. We still love to help each other out today, even though we both have our own studios. When I started out, Max told me to try every kind of tattoo style, so that I could find out which was my favourite. I found Japanese the easiest for me right from the beginning - the style suited my artistic attitude - and now, years later, I feel I'm married to the I-Jeo Japanese Tattoo Style!"

I am curious to know more about what defines the 'Ueo Style'. "l use this term because I personalise all of my pieces," Ueo explains. "l apply my own knowledge to the subjects and atmospheres proposed by my customer, and my personal dynamic weaves all the ideas and elements together. That's what makes my pieces so recognisable. For me, the best way to be appreciated as an artist is to make designs that suit each individual person's body. Designs that make the body soar. I work hard at this every day."

" The greatest influences on my style are the Japanese historical masters Horihoshi III and Horimasa, and also Filip Leu, Mick from Zurich and Shige. From Filip I've learned how to make big body pieces with dynamism and flow, from Mick I've learned the art of composition, and from Shige I've learned the secret of making richly detailed tattoos." I ask Ueo if being a tattooist in Switzerland, the land of the Leu Family, feels like an inspiration or a pressure. "It's been a big inspiration for me, and it also feels like a great responsibility. But this Japanese style has been my reference for years - even way back when I was tattooing in Italy - so I would feel the same wherever I was in the world. I love it."

"l have always been drawn to Japanese culture," Ueo continues, "and I enjoy reading popular Japanese legends and traditional Japanese fairy tales. I also love books about dragons and other monsters... in fact any book that gives me the inspiration to create my designs! Having good reference material to hand is very important. My impression is that my Swiss customers are generally very keen to learn about the stories, meanings and symbolism behind their tattoo designs. That's one of the reasons I like to keep lots of books in my studio."

Ueo feels that for him, large-scale Japanese work is the ultimate tattoo style. "It's limitless, it's the pinnacle of tattoo. And it's really difficult! Not everyone can use the Japanese style to clothe a person's body. It's so detailed and so hard to draw. And it's important to make the colours match to give it the right impact - and that's no small thing! I try to improve every day."


And what of the future? 
"My first desire is to produce pieces with true diligence and dedication," Ueo tells me. "Tattoo life experience is my real training, and I want to travel and work all around the world. Working at conventions like the Mondial du Tatouage in Paris is a real honour. For me, conventions are oxygen for the mind. They give me the opportunity to compare my work with that of other artists, meet new people, make new contacts... It's the lifestyle I've always dreamed of. And I'm really lucky to have met so many loyal customers, because without them I would never have been able to live this life and do what I love to do. I have to say thanks to every single person who offers me their skin."

Via degli Agustoni 1, Chiasso, Switzerland

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