Artist Profile: Kiriakos, Sake Tattoo Crew
In Athens, Greece, the Sake Tattoo Crew is an incubator for top tattoo talent -- not just respected in the country, but worldwide. One artist from this collective is Kiriakos Balaskas. Tattooing for 8 years after a tough apprenticeship with Sake, Kiriakos developed a style combining abstract expressionism watercolors and graphic art. But I wanted to learn from him how he views his work, and tattoo culture as a whole, so I took him away from organizing the Athens Tattoo Convention, which is May 23-25, for a quick Q&A.
If forced to define your style, how would you describe it? What are the strongest influences on your work?
My tattoo style in general has always been a combination of heavy themes/ lines/ shapes, and naive -- almost childish -- color details. I've always found this invasion of joy into strictness (two sides that equally attract me) very interesting and exciting. As soon as I started experimenting with the watercolor technique, I felt I had finally found the absolute way of expressing this ultimate combination. My pieces mainly include these distinctive elements: a black graphic stencil or sketch, and either a brush or wide, "clean," kid-style watercolors -- usually two colors only. It is hard for me to define it in a sole, strict term as there is no one else in Greece who practises this style, but if forced to define it, I'd use the term my costumers use when they ask for it, "Kiddo."
Some old school artists believe that "only bold will hold," and that every tattoo needs a heavy outline to stay strong longer. What is your response to this?
I agree and I myself use total black outlines in the stencil/sketch part. But as far as the watercolors outline is concerned, I feel the lines should create an ephemeral impression -- if you take the loose element out of the watercolor, the very substance of it is gone.
Because you are doing something new and innovative with your work, what kind of reactions do you get to it?
The reactions are positive, if not overwhelming. People are interested in trying this new technique or inflowing the style into their tattoos, and their eagerness to experiment with unconventional styles sincerely moves me.
What are some of the greatest lessons you learned in tattooing?
I've learned the greatest lessons and values of tattooing from the person who initiated me to this art, Sake. It was a tough apprenticeship by his side that I had to go through in order to become a respected tattoo artist, and one of the greatest lessons he gave me was to pay this respect back to the customers. They will have that piece on them forever, and that is something we always have to keep in mind.
What do you think makes a good tattoo -- and what do you think makes a good tattoo artist?
A good tattoo is a tattoo that remains the same over the years, as if it was only done two weeks ago. I consider good artists to be the artists who won't rest or let themselves go as far as their technique, style and inspiration are concerned.
How have you seen tattoo culture in Greece evolve? How has mainstream culture in Greece adapted to the art's popularity?
It's growing stronger and stronger, meaning that it is not considered a taboo anymore. It took a long time for tattooed people not be thought of as being gang members or criminal figures! I think this progress was a combination of famous, successful people flaunting their pieces and the evolution of the Greek tattoo scene that managed to establish itself as art.
As the organizer of the Athens Tattoo Convention, what do you think are the highlights of your convention?
Except for a good sum of about 180 artists (30 of them from around the globe), the Athens Tattoo Convention combines all kinds of inspiring subcultures through BMX and skate ramps, graffiti and custom bike shows to live music and little surprises every year, from aerial dance to Fuel Girls performances. Last but not least, the venue is located by the sea side.
Personally, what do you love to do when not tattooing?
If you had to sum up your personal life philosophy, what would it be?
"Be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. In that case, you should always be a unicorn". I love that quote.
Check more of Kiriakos' work on Facebook and Instagram.