Thanks to Okan Uçkun, we got in contact with the world famous tattoo artist Xoil, whose astonishing works we have been following for years. We got very sincere answers to the questions about which both we and Okan were wondering very much.
Interview: Okan Uçkun
First of all, I would like to indicate that I am delighted as you have accepted my invitation for this interview. This will be the first time I’m doing an interview and doing it with you is a great pleasure for me.
I’ve been following you and known your work via Myspace, since the times when social media use wasn’t as widespread and diverse as it is now. I have nothing to do with tattoos during those years, but from the day I came across to you and saw your work, I’m thinking to myself that “This guy is a crazy genius.” I would like to start with a question I have in my mind since then; it’ll be classic somehow but I really wonder about your reply. How did Xoil start tattooing?
I started 18 years ago. But I guess I wasn’t Xoil or anything back at that time. I mean, I was nothing except, a lost kid who, was waiting for something in his life. Tattoos always caught my eyes; on old guys, friends and workers from my dad’s construction jobs or just randomly. My brother and I always talked about having tattoos when we got older. My brother started to tattoo his friends while he was in and after the army. He was the art kid because he went to an art school for stone carving.
It happened by chance or hazard, call it as you want, that I got the chance to hang out more in a tattoo shop where, I was from. From what was projected in front of me, as choices for my life, as a kid from a small town with no school and with only construction skills, I didn’t have to think twice to seize the opportunity to start tattooing. I held it tight and completely dived deep and deeper inside.
We are experiencing maybe the most popular era of modern tattooing and we all get inspired by some artists that we have been following for years now. How was it for you? Can you talk a little bit about who did you keep close in your circle throughout all these years, who or what were your inspirations for your artistic production?
Well, you know, circles are meant to grow so, Noon, my friend, has been there since, I started to find my way. He comforted and helped me in this path. Dan Dimattia told me, now that I had a good technique, I should find something that would make me recognizable, instead of trying to do well done but, shitty looking tattoos from copying references.
In the history of art, we can see a lot of important artists who went off the rails by producing their artworks just for pushing their own limits without any aesthetic concerns and any expectancy of social recognition. These artists pursued nothing but their own path in what they have produced. I know that you’ve been through a similar process. At that time, you were doing those 5-10 minute sketchy tattoos; I even saw one of them in Greece, on Jade’s leg, who’s from “Expanded Eye”. What would you tell us about this process that you have been through and also about Jade’s tattoo, if you can remember it?
Of course I can remember, they worked for me. Well, it was a crossing point of lots of feelings and experiences that brought me there and indeed as always chance or whatever. It came during a period of family struggle, too much of everything. To settle the background, to understand the situation. I’m from a very small village where, the word ‘artist’ is almost a funny word. I opened my shop, 14 years ago in a small town. When I started, I wasn’t even good. I built the shop with things from dumps, and when it was completed, it was a wonderful and amazing shop which dripped life in every sense.
We received people from every continent; people from all around the world came there. There were three apprentices who worked almost full time and my friend Toko who completed his “training ” at the shop. Then, there were Kev and Jade, in same way too, 6 months of the year. As you can imagine, that’s a big change from the shop, with which I started. At that point, I thought that I needed to get closer to what I loved first for real; the tattoos that I saw during my youth, and kind of saying a fuck to everyone. At the end, also customers would come and ask me to do whatever I wanted but, I had only ever worked on commission, where people asked me to work with their own ideas or theme. So, I didn’t understand anymore the relation between me and the work I could provide. What I wanted was; rough and brutal tattoos, bringing back the meaning, not the beauty; the primary need.
A couple of summers ago, I was in DotsToLines Studio in Berlin with Kevin and Chaim. They were doing a collaboration and while we were having a chat, Kevin told me that; if he would ever get a one-line tattoo from his head-to-toe, he’d like one half of it done by me and the other half by Xoil. This was one of the best things I’ve ever heard in my entire life, from such an artist. You have also been working, collaborating with artists for all these years and you continue to do so. What were the moments you’ve felt excited?
The collaboration with Chaim was amazing; yes, for the brainstorming, the creation/realisation and the relation with the customer. And being at the shop, was always bringing that feeling of sharing things. Of course, I was sharing tricks of what I have learnt and experimented but, mostly it was a cosmos of improving good taste, new references and life experiences. All the people who worked with me at the shop nourished me very well; from apprentices to the guests.
You’re not using any social-media services but Facebook. Is there a specific reason for this preference and what are your thoughts about the relations between the tattoo community and social media recently?
Social media is such a weird thing as good and as bad. It is a nice tool to show your work to the world however; despite the creepo behavior we can have underneath. But well, we are all human after all, so no doubt that, it would go everywhere in our sensitivities. About Facebook; I keep it because, that’s the one which definitely opened me a window for my work through the world, but even that, as everyone I feel ‘Oh damn! I shouldn’t go there’, but, there is also so many nice things about it and I feel, I own it, something like as I can work today and everyday by the “grace” of it.
The relation between the tattoo community and Facebook is the same as mine, I think. Our work exploded on the web because of this, whatever on which site it is, it depends which one you prefer; the cooler, or the easier, the one that makes you more known. Something that makes you to have or to have not a good balance between you and the you of your work. I’d say, friends often ask me to do, and I think about it, about using Instagram, but then, I think it is too much, and do not want to hang on my phone all the time staring at that thing. Enough with the Facebook, ahahah. And plus, I also think, that it is cooler to have so many pictures on me and my work, although I even do not have an account, so why should I create one? But who knows to where human behavior will bring me.
Whose work do you follow? I’d like to know the tattoo artists you like but I also want to learn what kind of art you like within this needle infested bloody community likewise. Whose art do you admire?
Well, like I’m very eclectic in my taste of style and that, it could change depending on the phase of the work too, and they’re so many, plus, every month or less another comes; new one, or a discovery. We could do interviews for years just on them. So hard to pick. It wouldn’t be fare to say names as I would forget some that need to be included in these names too. And for the rest, I would say that I’m interested by any kind of art; street, contemporary, ancient, folk, brut, classicism… Earth herself, everywhere I see it.
I think, now we can put issues about work aside. I don’t want to ask you more questions about your work but I’d like to learn more about you except from your identity as a tattoo artist. Can you tell me about your hobbies and talk about how you spend one day as Xoil shortly? I think I would be a carpenter if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing today as a tattoo artist. Doing what would make you feel good?
No days look the same, or exactly the same. As I’m all over the place in my mind, it will depend on the need or on the urge of the moment. It could be crafting, taking drum or guitar lessons, construction work, detecting metals, auctions at flea market etc., chilling, getting fucked up, being a creative father, visiting museums and odd places, gathering pictures, that are taken for references and work. I live for love, my children, music, old things and tattoos, that’s mostly the main things, so, my life turns around that. It runs as a meditation, well, at least I think so. I do really love antique things; as a maniac, collecting collections. I like to cook. I like to be around my kids. Sure, I would or could be an antique dealer or could have a food truck.
Let’s talk a bit about music. As from this month, we will be creating a spotify list with the featured artists of the month, that means now, you get to pick the music! What is your favourite music / track / band?
Oh that’s a great thing, I always had weirdo and very eclectic taste of music. I really loved to work all around and take the music from everyone and everywhere I’ve been, from Greece to L.A, to make a huge spectrum of style. So, maybe a top ten song of the moment? Alright, I’ll try the one of the “moment “.
– You can listen to it from Spotify TATUMAG account.
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