By Travelin’ Mick
Noon, from France, is one of the founders of the modern abstract minimalism movement that has rocked the tattoo world, during the past few years. With influences that reach from childrens’ scribblings all the way to Picasso, he brings across his message quickly and right in your face! And, on top of all this intellectual concept, his tattoos are just sooooo cute.
“It took me five years to be able to draw like Michelangelo, and then it took me the rest of my life to draw like a child.” (Pablo Picasso)
This is a quote from the great master of cubist art, a person who quickly appears in conversations, when you talk to Noon. But whatever you do or say to convince him otherwise, Noon insists that he is not an artist himself. “I am not comparing myself to Picasso, at all. I am an illustrator on skin, more an artisan or skilled craftsman doing tattoos than an artist. I am just using the ideas of my customers and illustrating them!”
I guess it is simply a matter of definition, but this man from Troyes, a small town in the north of France, certainly has found, or rather created, his own place among the top roster of international tattoo art. Incessantly travelling, when he is not holed up in his country retreat in the woods outside Troyes (where he lives without electricity and running water), Noon attends conventions all over the world and does numerous guest spots in New York, London and Berlin, true hotspots of the tattoo art world. “I have to go where my customers are,” he says humbly. “I don’t have enough work in France, and it is getting less. Our movement has many ‘children,’ now, and, if people like to get minimalist tattoos, they can often find someone doing a similar style close to home. Before, they had to go where we are. But this is okay for me. If you open a door, you have to expect that others have gone through it as well. It is a good thing because, like this, the development of a style can go on. Look how it is going: Jef from Boucherie Moderne is doing his pixel style, Navette is going his way and Buena Vista is using computers to create their designs. We are not in this world to claim a copyright. Only some years ago, all tattooists were doing exactly the same flash all over the world.” But other artists’ work will ever reach the artistry of Noon’s tattoos. He is a master of telling an elaborate and often amusing story with a few strokes of his tattoo machine. Using well-placed lines, script and technically demanding textures as background or shading, he paints figures and scenes that superficially resemble the drawings of an innocent child, but contain an innate sense of humor and, quite often, symbolic content. Noon’s tattoos work extremely well with the bodies of his clients, by incorporating muscle structure, body joints and movement of the person concerned. “You know,” he says, “there is a lot of technique in my style, and also a lot of love and thinking involved. Believe me, it is not easy to make a tattoo that looks like a scratch and to do it in a way that it will look like a scratch, after it healed. If it is not done properly, the ink will fall out and only a scar will stay!”
Noon and his friends Lionel (Out of Step) and Yann Black established the art of minimalist tattoos, in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Noon’s work was mainly based on lines just as a child would draw them. “Imagine a spider. In the eyes of a child, it is a circle, two dots as eyes and a few lines around it to make legs. That’s it. All the necessary information is there. It is not a perfect drawing, but it is spontaneous. I actually used the drawings from my little son as designs for tattoos. But now he is eleven years old and the innocence is lost a bit.” Again, Noonquotes Picasso:
“‘All children are artists. The problem is to remain an artist once he grows up!’ My tattoos are NOT like a child’s drawing,” says Noon, “because I learned how to draw before. I can draw. Now I have to learn how NOT to draw.”
Another influence is Western jailhouse tattoos, which Noon was exposed to as a child, a time when he hung out with heavily-tattooed gypsy groups and ex-prisoners, who settled in his township in northern France. “You know, I saw gypsy people doing tattoos by hand, when I was only eight years old, and almost everybody in this part of town had prison tattoos. It made me think about how to pass on visual information by just using lines. In jail, they could do only lines, so, without any drawing skills, they drew a cross, a girl or a bird. The designs were very poor, but always instantly recognizable. You see, a flower is just one line with a few circles on top for petals. That’s it. Just like a child does it.”
But those influences and his humbleness cannot distract from the fact that Noon’s tattoos, the way he executes them now, are highly skilled works of art. He does not have to prove anymore that he can actually tattoo, but this fact can easily be seen in his images. During the past years, he incorporated more new techniques to enhance the visual impact of his images using weaving patterns, scratchy-looking shading, organic textures and a certain type of cross-hatching and tiny tattooed circles that are perfect for filling otherwise open spaces. By making these age-old drawing and tattooing techniques look rough and unfinished, he shows a true sense of irony, since they work so perfectly.
Not everybody in the tattoo scene understands the history and groundbreaking impact that Noon and his friends have had on the tattoo scene. When French minimalist tattoos were first published in tattoo magazines in Europe (Issues 10 and 11/2004 of TätowierMagazin), a huge outcry came from the tattoo world. “How do these people dare question our values by doing something that had not been seen before?” they asked. “What about solid lines, smooth shading or saturated color? How dare they call themselves tattooists? My little child can do a design like that!”
Noon still smiles, when he thinks about the prejudice that he and his peers faced back then and, sometimes, face nowadays. He simply repeats what he has told the conservative forces of the tattoo scene back then: “Maybe your child can do this, but YOU can’t!”
On the Road