Jean-Francois Palumbo – Jef for short – is a tattoo artist from the Boucherie Moderne salon in Brussels, Belgium, specialising in conceptual designs that raise ink to the realm of high art.
I’ve just been searching for cheap flights to Japan because I’ve been asked to guest at tattoo studios in Kyoto and Okinawa. I’m excited – I’ve never been there before and I’ve heard the Japanese have some crazy notions. Given the quirky visions and designs my mind cooks up, we should get on great!
Since my business partner Kostek and I left the Sint-Lukas art school in Brussels
18 years ago, I haven’t stopped feeling like a teenage student; my life still revolves around gigs, travelling, meeting new people and gathering ideas wherever I go – though these days I don’t run after as many girls or smoke as much grass. I had to leave my course early because the tuition fees were too high, but not before I discovered a major passion for Surrealism, reflected in the tattoos on these pages.
I find it interesting to draw things that don’t exist outside the world of my ink. One of the surrealist techniques I’ve developed involves juxtaposing two unrelated items. The result is an absurd chimera; aesthetically pleasing and entertaining to look at, but also a simple way of putting across a philosophical message.
The image of the Virgin Mary crossed with a fish (middle), reflects my view of religion. The basic teachings of many faiths, such as loving your fellows and treating others as you would like to be treated, are great values. But stick a label like Christianity or Islam on them, and conflicts begin. People who believe the same things become segregated hypocrites, preaching peace and love while fighting and killing one another.
It’s bullshit! Like a salmon that’s been hanging around in the back of the fridge, religion can soon start to smell really bad! The handshake inside the tattooed Virgin’s stomach represents my hope that one day, like the miracle of Mary carrying Christ, people might miraculously stop fighting. Perhaps we can start by saying hello in the street and smiling more.
PORK THIS WAY
That said, even I don’t go round grinning all the time. Four years ago, an ex-girlfriend had just left me and I was grieving. I felt so low that even though I’d never have done it, there were days when I mused on sticking my head in the oven. I’d been doodling stoves to get my sadness out onto paper, when Piet du Congo – another of the Boucherie Moderne tattoo artists – walked by and saw them. “Mmm!” Piet declared. “Ovens... Cooking... Let’s have a barbeque!”
Piet du Congo’s cook-ups are legendary. He’s so passionate about chargrilling, we turned my oven drawings into a crest, now emblazoned on his chest (above). We also inked the cuts of pork from a pig, to reflect both his love of meat feasts and our studio name: “modern butchers”. So, something I’d sketched at a depressing moment has been transformed into a tattoo celebrating friendship, fun and good times.
More body mods at bodymod.org