The devil is in the detail

profileCharly Phoenix is a libertarian soul with a great need for perfectionism, artistic integrity and danish swearing.

Charly Phoenix is one of those people, who can talk the hell off a donkey. He would happily start long debates on the condition of the kingdom, how to make the perfect sauce or tattoo industry’s need for self-examination. He claims that he was born “insanely provocative and flippant,” and street-boys attitude is still intact in the now 34-year-old tattoo artist from Odense, who certainly has the courage to speak his mind. But one should not have exchanged many words with him, before you find out, that behind the little arrogant and cool exterior is a big heart, intelligent and reflective man who is as full of nuances that the Black and Grey tattoos he’s so famous for. On daily basic the sound of his needles fills the working spaces of Art of Ink in Odense, where customers from all over the country comes to get benefits from his skills, as one of the best Black and Grey artists. A position that has been achieved through hard work and an uncompromising artistic integrity, that motivates him to constantly improve and develop. Both for him, the customers and the art. It all comes down to living an honest and authentic life, with the courage to navigate by his own compass, and even write the items on the agenda.

A bright spot

Yes, Charly Phoenix probably is a street boy in trainers that swears on Funen, but he is also a nerd who gets lost in detail and almost turns into a educated academy professor, when the conversation falls on good and bad Black and Grey Tattoos. The vital part is exactly, the light. Just as it was, for the nineteenth century artists from Jutland’s northernmost point, or the old Renaissance painters, for that matter. Although he can catch himself in, moving a glass at a family dinner, just to see how the shadows falls and how they are changing a surface. Light, shadows, shades and transformation.
For many years, Black and Grey have been characterized, by the fact that there was a solid outline, where you put the shade from the edge and into to middle, which present a uniform and flat design, but according to Charly Phoenix, this has changed, also in time with the genre has become much more realistic embossed.
“That point, where a good tattoo have developed today, is often about, whether the artist has thought about having a light source, and where the light source is coming from. It creates dimension and depth, and is crucial for a realistic portrait to show if its is successful or not, “he explains, and talk about what kind of shadows a nose can throw and how the eyelashes can cast shadows on the cheek, if you can imagine the right light source, and be skilled enough to use it continuously throughout the whole design.
“The devil is in the detail. Forexample if you leave flower petals to cast a shadow onto the underlying leaves, t makes a three-dimensional effect, despite the fact that you made the tattoo on something flat. I think that’s more important than anything else. The light source, “he explains, and adds that there is an ocean of technical skills, the way black ink works, and other craftmen skills, that’s different from every other tattoo artist, and occasionally becomes  a discussion in the tattoo industry.

Personally, it doesn’t mean that much to him. However, what matters most according to him, is whether you can see the artist’s distinctive style, and if the design is an interesting eyecatcher. In his opinion, there’s too many portraits and photo-realism, that’s taken right out of the book. He’ll always keep in mind, that his tattoos, must have an artistic touch.
“There’s nothing wrong with using a photo as a reference, but should difinitely be added personally and artistic input. It could be the person’s favorite flower, or a different background. It shouldn’t be the technical execution of a photo, which of course is difficult enough, but when you work as an artist, it is my opinion that there should be added something, a sertain value to be passed on to the customer. Otherwise, there’s no personally motivation, ” Charly says.
The last sentence is important. Charly Phoenix is not a man who needs to hold back. He believes in his own abilities and qualities, but  have no desire to raise himself above others. On the other hand, he needs to keep himself motivated, and a goal he made for himself, nine years ago, when he started tattooing is still the ongoing motivation.
“I made myself a promis, that no matter how crappy my day is, my level of skills would still be as one of the best. I can’t do my best every day, but if my successrate is 99 out of 100 days, I still in the elite, and am satisfied with that. But that succes doesn’t come on it’s own. It requires my constantly attention of detail and never be afraid to take chances, both technically and artistically, the desire to always be better is what keeps me going, “Charly explains with the mentally energy, that characterizes him. Therefore, it’s difficult to imagine that his succesful career begun with a breakdown.

img19A turning point

At the age of 25, Charly became stressed. He was in matter of fact so stressed, that he became terribly sick. After several years as an independent in the advertising industry, he had now given up the stressfull life and decided to start over. Change course. Change his life. That decision should be memoriesed with a tattoo. Designed and drawn on his own. “You know, the classical first tattoo with lots of meaning and soul,” he says, laughing. With the drawing of a lion’s head in his pocket, Charly Phoenix walked right into the shop on Vindegade 43 in Odense, without the slightest clue that thats day would actually be the turning point in his life, not only the day when he got his first tattoo. He  literally went straight into a new career, a new chapter in life, the meeting with this new art form, that today is an integral part of his personality. While Charly was under the needle, he and the owner of Art of Ink, Hien Phuoc Nguyen, chatted with one and the other, the conversation was richfull, and the next day Charly was offered apprenticeship.
“To be honest, I can’t recall the conversation, that eventually led him to choose me. I think HP thought that I had an interesting personality and mind to put things together, to create a tattoo-friendly design, which made him curious to see what I could do,” Charly says, and slightly smiles at the memory. For it was not exactly a boyhood dream, more like, just something fascinating enough to capture his interest. And not long after, he went all in.

A revolutionary point

Hien Phuoc, or HP, as he’s called on daily basic, actually had his own agenda. He was considered taking a break from the tattoo life, to become a painter instead. One evening, after Charlys day with coffee brewing, floor sweeping, and cleaning was coming to an end, HP told of his plans.
“We could just say that I was not thrilled, said Charly. “I had really becoming hooked on this idea, and told him how much I would appreciate if he would teach me everything. And then he came to an agreement. I’ll stay, but you have promise me, that you do everything, that is in your power to be as good as you possibly can, ” Charly remembers. “He said if I didn’t have my main goal to make him proud, he wouldn’t bother wasting his time on it. If I had any doubts before, I didn’t any longer, at least not now. After then I went all in. ”
“All in”, meant in Charly’s case that he was in the shop from 8-24 every day. The Tattoo-studio became his priority and life. Charly remembers “There was no place on earth I’d rather be at that time, and he clearly remembers the making of his first tattoo, especially that feeling you get. “Besides minor anxiety attacks, slightly lightheaded and the feeling of being overwhelmed… yes, it went fine,” he laughs.
The tattoo was a football logo made on one of Charly Phoenix’ acquaintances, which was only slightly re-designed. It took about four hours and the lines weren’t even or pretty. “It’s one of the ugliest tattoos I’ve seen, and it still is. Whenever I meet him, I almost beg him to do something else with it, or at least make it pretty. But he is always smiling and just says no. He knows that it pisses me off. I’m not kidding when I say that it really hurts my eyes just looking at it, and maybe, just maybe, my pride is also a little bit hurt. But somehow, it’s only fair.

A starting pointimg30

When Charly looks back at the young guy who made his first tattoo, and the present Charly Phoenix, that have customers coming to get exactly his designs and creative guidance, they still have much in common, besides the thousands of tattoos that separate them. The amount of ink that he has tattooed on his customers’ skin, does, that he got the experience so he knows exactly how a 10 percent black ink looks when it is healed up, and has learned to fully rely on his own expertise.
But the premise is still the same. The burning desire to get customers to sit with mouth wide open and eyes popping out of their head, of the drawing or idea they had come with ended up being that good. “It’s what drives me. I would prefer to have that reaction every time, see their joy, the satisfaction of being allowed to do it my way, he says, laughing loudly. The enthusiasm is not to be mistaken. He feels like a fish in water, and could not imagine doing anything else.

Still, there’s a question he is often asked. Why did he become an tattoo artist? With the interest he has for his community, so eloquent he is? Can this really be true? “My answer is the same every time; I tattoo for the same reason you sit here, wanting a tattoo. Because it’s fucking cool! Spoken in this way, it’s not hard to understand, “says Charly Phoenix slightly rinkling his forhead. But the question is not be be fully misguided, when asked, one of the things he enjoys most about his work, is actually the conversation with customers. Interaction between people, why we act and think as we do, and other sociological issues, has always been the subject of Charly’s curiosity. If he wasn’t a tattoo artist, he would probably prefer work with coaching, he says. And mentions in this context, another reason why he has no further plans on leaving the industry.
“It’s always been difficult for me to be in the moment. I have always kept my head in the clouds, I constantly observe everything, and they never slows down. When I’m tattooing, I find my peace of mind, that have gotten me addicted. I am present in the moment, and can take a break and enjoy what I do, without all kind of thoughts taking over, “he explains.
At the same time he sees the art of tattoo as a way of letting his inner geek out, allowing himself to delve into details and constantly work on the little things. In the end, it’s the customers who end up carrying the art. It must be made in harmony. “I think tattoos are beautiful and cool on the same time. But considering that we’re doing art on the body, and it is a unique canvas. The tattoo should help to beautify this canvas, so I’m taking my time thinking of all the small details and looking at the lines of the body. For example, wings which follows the ribs, when the arms are stretched. “Little things” in order to compliment the body’s natural movements, “he says. The question about whether he believes, whether most of the tattoo artists are being causious and thoughtful with their works, and the customers’ bodies, causing a short break before answering. “No I do not think so. But I wish that there were more that was. ”

One criticism

The dream about more artistic thought and care goes hand in hand with an opinion, that there’s room for a little more reflection in the industry. Charly believes that the progress in general in the tattoo industry have made too much workspace, that made too many people choosing to become tattoo artists for the wrong reasons.
“Becoming a tattoo artist, has turned into a trend. But the job comes with obligations. You can’t choose this job, just because of a desire of a certain lifestyle, especially if the skills aren’t there. Then the approach of the art isn’t to have the desire to create good, solite work, leaving nothing but the desire to live the lifestyle. But unfortunately it happens all the time, and it’s a real damn shame. ”
Those kinds of choices has consequences, he said. Without even being aware of it, they are using the customers, especially young people who tries to follow the fashion with “a lot of ink on the body”, who doesn’t have quite the economy for it. They can save a lot of money, if they choose tattooists who may in fact not be qualified enough for the task in hand. Such customers, who let the economy play a decisive role, often pop into the studio in Odense asking for help.
“They have now been educated, have a different economy, and would really like some help to correct their bad tattoos. Some find it hard to understand that we can’t just conjure it into similar designs, of what I create. ”
Fortunately, HP is a specialist in cover ups, so the customers are refered to him, but Charly is not happy seeing how many bad tattoos, that are in circulation.
“I hate bad tattoos and think it’s a real pity for the people who have to walk around with a crappy tattoo. I wish that we could control it, make some guidelines or rules, but it can’t be done, as it is right now. Anyone can call themselves tattoo artists, it’s not a protected title, even if they’re just starting pricking ink into their Aunt Gertrude’s arm at the kitchen table, back home, or in a shop, where “money, money, money” and is all that matters, “he says.
In fact, he would go so far as saying that 80 percent of the tattoo industry should look at themselves in the mirror and ask a very essential question that should be something like: “What is actually the reason why I do, as I do! ”

img17Take a stand

It is not the first time that Charly speaks his mind about the tattoo industry’s need for self-examination, and would love to take the discussion with those who disagrees. For it’s not really a question of thinking less of the not as skilled tattooists. His opinion is simply to make them to know their limitations.
“If people in general have everything under control, in terms of hygiene and how deep the needle should penetrate the skin, they can for my sake make ugly tattoos. I believe all levels are justified. But where the difference in a serious tattoo artist, and one who “just likes to tattoo” is, is where you set the limit for yourself in case of what tasks you take. ”
For example, Charly thinks, that there’s too many who start of with making tattooed portraits, without being able to draw it freehand. And if you can’t get it down on a piece of paper, you shouldn’t take it to the next step and make it on someone’s skin, he says.
“When I see all these insanely poorly executed portraits, I start to boil up inside. Because you can’t fucking skip steps. You don’t go from making cherry blossoms and a name on the wrist, to suddenly think that you can make a big motive on the customers back, or a portrait of Elvis Presley. It’s really a lack of self-awareness, “he says, and tells how he feels that the industry is becoming more and more driven by making money and overlooking it’s commitment to evolve artistically and ensure quality.
“I find that there’s many who take in apprentices, but really don’t care about what they are doing, as long as the money rolls in. It really is a lack of respect for the profession. ”

The final dot

There is no doubt that Charly Phoenix sees himself as a lucky man. He talks about his art, his children and the many interests in his life with great passion and satisfaction in his voice. Yes, he still has big ambitions, but really only needs “air in the lungs” and the smell of dew on the beech trees, to have a good life. Simple. Maybe too simple. We are talking about a man who has never had a goldfish, but once read a book on aquariums, because he refused to be bored, and at the time, was all there was to read. About an information junkie, one argumentative gentlemen, a child that could drive the teachers mad in an instant, with provocative questions and a frantic desire to learn, and that’s one of the things that will never end.
But it will all be ok anyway, because Freja is Charly’s girlfriend. Freja Andersen, a Scandinavian beauty that is both gentle and a strong will. She is also Charly’s colleague in the shop, and if you’ve ever heard of a true love story, this has to be it.
“In fact, I’m sometimes most impressed by the fact that I found one that can stand being with me, because I’m probably a bit of an annoying human being. I go into detail on everything and think a lot about everything. I’ll say that one more time: Everything, “says Charly who sometimes pinches himself in the arm when he wakes up next to her.
But if basic curiosity, provocation and a desire to force people to think outside the box, is a drive for Charly Phoenix, it will not be a credible portrait, if not also mentioning his gratitude and loyalty to the other tattoo artists in the shop, that he mentions repeatedly. Least of all HP.
“There is one thing that I hope you highlight, and it’s Hien,” says Charly. After a two hour interview, we are about to make the final touches, and I ask if there is something that he doesn’t think we’ve talked enough about, or whether there are things he doesn’t want me to mention. It is a normal procedure, where I also provide information on the impact, he can have on the finished article. Usually, people are very occopied with what they can get deleted, and sometimes directly manipulative. But not Charly Phoenix. He does not care about any of that, he says. I write exactly as I feel like…
“But HP, my mentor … he’s not just a friend and deserves recognition for all his hard work. He has been absolutely crucial to my success. I owe him everything. Period. ”

Written By Randi Markussen.