Mythology on Skin: The Artistry of Alexandra Gagarina
Welcome to the interview with Alexandra Gagarina, a tattoo artist whose talent has begun to gain recognition in the industry this year. In this conversation, Alexandra will share her experiences of winning awards at conventions this year, discuss her passion for mythology, and reveal how her art has become a means of assistance and inspiration for people. Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of tattoos with the unique Alexandra Gagarina.
Let's start with some traditional questions: tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from, what were you doing before tattooing, and how did your career begin? Who was your teacher? Were there any challenges at the beginning?
- I was born in the village of Spasskoe-Lutovinovo in the Oryol region. In 2011, I moved to Oryol to study architecture. The interest in tattoos arose around the second or third year of university. A friend of mine started getting tattoos and enthusiastically shared details about the process, studios, and artists. The beginning of my career was blurry and stretched over time. In 2016, equipped with the cheapest Chinese tools, I attempted my first and last tattoo on that same friend for the next two years. Fortunately, we are still friends after that (laughs).
In the same year, I graduated from university and got a job in my field. The architect profession was a marriage of convenience for me, an "ordinary" profession approved by everyone. At some point, the thought horrified me that I would spend my entire life in a job I didn't love. I started researching tattoo education because my interest hadn't faded. In 2018, I completed tattoo courses in a Moscow studio. During individual training, I gained basic knowledge and made two tattoos on models.
At the end of 2018, having saved up for equipment, I quit my job and tried doing tattoos at home. Much was still unclear: where to find clients, how to communicate with them, and when my hands would stop shaking during work (laughs).
During six months of working at home, I did about 10-12 tattoos. Then I managed to join a good studio in Oryol. On April 10, 2019, I made my first tattoo in the studio, marking the beginning of my professional career as a tattoo artist. Thanks to a strong team and regular work, I started growing rapidly. Currently, I work in my private studio in Oryol with two colleagues.
Switching professions, I faced intense incomprehension from my family. They tried to convince me I was making a mistake, leaving architecture, and that I would regret it. I have a strong bond with my family, and going against their opinion was incredibly difficult. The only person who believed in me and supported me was my future husband. He became a real support for me: financially secured me when I quit my job, found the first clients among his acquaintances, and said everything would work out. After four years of working as a tattoo artist, my family finally accepted my choice. For example, my mom used to ask in horror, 'What will I tell people when they ask me what you do for a living?' But now, she proudly wears a small tattoo from me and tells everyone that her daughter did it.
I understand that for our parents' generation, tattoos and tattoo artists were associated with blurry greenish drawings on the body and dirty, smoky basements where you would inevitably catch something. However, when you explain and show how the tattoo industry has evolved both artistically and technically, everything changes, and your work is taken seriously.
Is tattooing art, a job, or something else for you?
- It's my life (laughs). I think tattooing is a creative job. Approaching my, even creative, activity as a job, realizing and accepting that there's not only a creative aspect but also routine like managing social media, answering messages, rent payment, buying supplies, etc., adds more responsibility. Still, it allows seeing the whole picture and growing faster. For the last four years, tattooing has completely occupied my life. Right now, it's my job, my hobby, a way of self-realization. I understand it won't always be like this, but for now, I'm sincerely in love with what I do and not ready to stop or spend time on something else.
Your portfolio is incredibly diverse, combining works in different styles and techniques, all executed superbly. Did you start as a versatile artist? Which modern tattoo styles are most appealing to you?
- The first 2-2.5 years of tattooing were spent searching for a direction that would be interesting to work in consistently. I became interested in color, ventured into neo-traditional and neo-Japanese styles, experimented with something realistic, and simultaneously worked in graphics. Deciding on one thing was painfully difficult. As a viewer, I'm still attracted to both neo-traditional and color Japanese styles.
Lately, you've been transitioning from color to black tattoos with rather dark themes. Tell us why you made such a choice?
- Black is my favorite color. It has conciseness, restraint, depth, and some visual calmness; it doesn't irritate and doesn't get boring. After several years of experimenting with different styles and directions, I settled on illustrative graphics. Technical comfort became a significant factor. Working with black, I feel maximally confident, can focus only on tonal contrast, fully control the application, and get a predictably stable result after healing. With color, everything is much more complicated; I don't yet feel such freedom and comfort.
As for dark themes, it happened naturally. In my childhood, one of my favorite books was a strange one called 'The Enchanted World.' It was a collection with all sorts of monsters from different mythologies: basilisks, dragons, unicorns, creepy harpies. These images sometimes frightened but stirred my imagination. I am quite a melancholic person; there's often unexplainable sadness and longing inside me. Drawing dark characters allows me to express my feelings, and instead of destroying me, they, on the contrary, give strength.
In your recent works, themes based on Slavic mythology and epic appear more frequently. Are these your personal preferences, or client requests? If yours, tell us why you chose this theme for your tattoos.
- It happened that my personal preferences coincided with client requests. Slavic, and generally any mythology, is an endless source of ideas, intriguing characters with their history and meanings. We are all familiar with Slavic mythology characters from childhood: Baba Yaga flying in a mortar, a hut on chicken legs standing at the edge of the forest, the cunning Leshy, the evil Koschei. The imagination immediately paints images from old fairy tales; for me, they are always mysteriously dark yet cozy and warm.
What is the most important aspect of tattooing for you?
- For me, the most important thing is for the tattoo to be beautiful. The concept of 'beautiful' encompasses various factors: proper placement on the body, a well-balanced ratio of size and detailing, contrast, overall flow, and form.
Do you have favorite tattoos, clients, projects, or perhaps some unusual stories in your career?
- I'm fortunate with the people I meet in my life, and my clients are no exception. I'm still amazed at how many common interests we share, from favorite movies and books to political beliefs and attitudes towards life. People from various professions, from a judge to individuals involved in cartoon voiceovers, come to me. I often ask, why did you decide to get a tattoo? What does it mean to you?
My favorite and most inspiring story is from an elementary school teacher who got her first tattoo on her fiftieth birthday. She had always dreamed of a tattoo, but under the influence of external factors, couldn't make up her mind. What would colleagues say? Would her husband disapprove? Isn't it too late already? Then she had a heart attack; fortunately, she recovered, and her first thought was about getting a tattoo, about not wanting to postpone both the tattoo and life. I did a small, neat piece for her, and she was the happiest person on earth. The realization that, in addition to a beautiful picture, you're giving someone bright positive emotions adds even more meaning to our work.
Do you travel a lot? Where have you been so far? Which country has had the greatest influence on your creativity?
- Unfortunately, I can't say I travel a lot. In my small list of countries are Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, and Thailand. Germany made the greatest impression on me, probably because it was the first country I visited. I was 15, and my grandmother and I came to visit relatives. For someone who had never left the Oryol region, it was a leap into a parallel universe. The images of gloomy Gothic architecture, the fairytale-like old German houses, misty spruce forests, and winding roads stayed in my consciousness.
Saw you among the participants at tattoo conventions this year. Share your experience with conventions.
- This year, I participated in conventions in St. Petersburg and Voronezh. The trip to Voronezh was as spontaneous as it gets. A week before the festival, I got a spot in 'The Couch' booth. It was my first exciting experience working at a festival; it was scary and unclear to work in new stressful conditions. It was amazing and pleasing for me to receive feedback on my work from such a large number of people. In terms of awards, the most successful for me was the St. Petersburg Tattoo Festival. I didn't work in a booth, but I entered three categories, placing in two: 2nd place in 'Best Sketch' and 2nd place in 'Superskin Mini.' These are my first awards in my career, and they happened at such a cool festival. Unfortunately, I was late for the award ceremony and learned about winning from the organizers. The gestalt of going on stage to thunderous applause is still not closed (laughs).
How do you assess your popularity? And what, in your opinion, can measure it?
- I currently perceive my popularity as very low. I've just felt confident enough to make a name for myself and decided to participate in festivals and travel to guest spots. Popularity is a very vague and relative concept. Like everywhere else, in the tattoo industry, it's more tied to social media presence, an active audience, recognition from colleagues, and a distinctive style. These factors can be used to attempt to measure a tattoo artist's popularity.
What is the most important thing in a tattoo artist's career for you? What goals do you set for yourself? Share your creative plans for the near future.
- First and foremost, for me, it's about self-realization as an artist. I strive to create interesting projects, discover new images, and, of course, be able to showcase them interestingly. In the plans, I aim to travel beyond Oryol more often, participate in upcoming conventions, and in these dark times, try to live and find joy.