Traditions of Russian lubok and medieval engravings in tattoos by Alisa Bugasheva
Alisa Bugasheva is a tattoo artist from Russia who works in a unique style that delights true connoisseurs of medieval art - engraving!
Alisa specializes in Russian lubok pictures and medieval scenes from woodcuts, which differ from engravings of later centuries in ease of application, primitivism and irony. The tattoo artist will tell us more about this style in this interview.
We would like to note that the artist is not just one of hundreds of artists of this direction, but a real professional, because she was lucky to study and work with such great artists as Duke Riley, Susan Jeiven, Maxime Plescia Buchi, Luca Font in the famous East River shop in New York. Now Alice has gone on a free voyage, opened her studio in Brooklyn, and continues to promote this delightful trend!
In this interview, Alisa talked about her early career with the NBK Tattoo Collective, her passion for Russian lubok and woodcuts, her work at East River Tattoo and much more!
Alice, tell us about your journey in tattooing. Where and how did you start doing it?
- I am from Krasnodar, I started like everyone else at that time - I tattooed friends at home.
I graduated in architecture, but I never had a heart for construction, I was always a rebel, and when I got my first tattoo at 18, I thought: “I’m best at drawing, why don’t I try it too?”.
In the late 2000s (in Russia), there was no such thing as a “student”, and I didn’t want to ask for an apprenticeship in the studio for brutal bikers at all, they had their own atmosphere there, and no one would take a 20-year-old girl seriously (sexism at that time bloomed luxuriantly, especially in tattoo community). Even now, in some studios in Russia, where there is a practice of walk-in, clients still ask for a male tattooer when a girl comes to them.
How would you describe your style? Why did you choose it, and how did you come to it?
- When I worked in Russia, I liked the American traditional tattoo the most, and I tried to develop in this direction, but in my city it was in demand, and more experienced tattooers who worked in this style took all the clients.
I had to do everything. When I got a job at one of the best studios in my hometown at that time, I came across an article about the unique East River Tattoo studio in New York, and I became interested in the even less popular style of “engraving” in our country. It was 2013, sometimes I did something cool, but basically I took everything from realism to damn watercolor. Who would have known that after 10 years of wandering and searching for myself, they would take me to work at ERT, where I completely switched to linework, where I do engraving and woodcut works.
What inspires you as an artist, where do you look for subjects for your tattoos?
- Most of all, I am inspired by Russian lubok and woodcuts of the Middle Ages from different countries. Since the images in such prints should be easily executable on wood, there are no unnecessary details, simple forms should convey the essence of the subject as much as possible, make it readable, unlike engraving illustrations (performed in a more delicate etching technique) of later centuries, which allow you to get as close as possible to realism.
In addition, the authors of those times were more artisans than artists, often depicting objects as unrealistic and disproportionate, which only enhances the ironic reading for the modern viewer. Artists (painters) of those years served the court, and their art was hidden from ordinary people. What can we say about the Russian lubok, which existed only for the entertainment of ordinary peasants. The authorities were often ridiculed there, funny situations were depicted, one lubok could replicate hundreds of amusing sheets. People didn't have memes, you know?
We know that in your tattoos there is one popular and very curious character - Eugene. Tell me about him.
- Like any painter you should have your own recognizable skull, I drew a lot and Eugene appeared on his own. He is very ironic: a dead guy with high hopes for life. By the way, before I moved to America, Eugene always had a gloomy expression on his face, and in the States, clients often began to ask to draw a smile for him, since then Eugene has become much happier and I along with him (laughs).
Tell us about your experience in the NBK studio, how long have you been in their team? What are your memories of the studio?
- By the time I had a good level in technical terms, the studio where I worked began to fall apart, and I went to NBK. To my surprise, Dima (Dmitry Naboka) answered me, and not only invited me to join the NBK team, but put me in his booth. I worked there for about two years until I moved to Germany for permanent residence.
I still don’t understand why he took me to work in his studio, since my style is very far from what the guys do. At that time, I was doing a strange tradition and trying to come up with something in neo-tradition. By the way, I maintain relations with the NBK and always when I come to Krasnodar, the first thing I do is go to them to sit and chat over a cup of coffee. Perhaps in the future, if there are clients in Krasnodar for my style, I will come to them as a guest artist.
After Krasnodar, you moved to Berlin. Tell us about your experience as a tattoo artist in Germany.
- I left the country for political reasons, besides, my boyfriend was an EU citizen, his move to the Russian Federation was not considered. Berlin is a cool city, but unfortunately I ended up in a not the best studio, where immigrants were mercilessly exploited, depending on the renewal of their residence permits. I still didn't have my own style, and I mostly did walk-ins, sometimes 5-10 clients a day. Despite such stress and low interest, I still tried to get good tattoos.
Now I think that instead of such hard work, it would be better to go to techno clubs and draw. By the way, I did not renew my residence permit in Germany. I will definitely go to Berlin, but as a tourist, and first of all, of course, I will go to Berghain.
How long have you been with the legendary East River Tattoo? Tell us how you became part of their team?
I worked at East River Tattoo for about two and a half years, during which time the pandemic hit, and during the lockdown I became very close to Sue, my colleague who worked with Duke Riley for over 12 years. It turned out that we have the same view on the aesthetics of the tattoo, and generally very similar interests, and we decided to establish our own studio in Brooklyn. I think by the time this article is published, we will have officially opened!
How has working side by side with such iconic tattoo artists changed you?
- Most of the guest tattooers who stayed at the ERT have their own unique and recognizable style. Such stars as Suflanda, Luca Font, Luciano, Liam Sparkes, the founder of Sang Bleu Maxine Plescia Buchi and many others stayed there, I have been following their work for many years and if someone had told me then that I would work in the studio, where such talented artists come, I would not believe it.
I always thought that I would never be able to develop my own style, and in general I have no art education - because of which a creative career, which is already difficult, seemed to me an insurmountable task (imposter syndrome haha). But I forced myself to send them my portfolio and they immediately took me. This faith in me and the support of my colleagues helped me not to give up and achieve many of my goals..
You have extensive experience in the tattoo industry both in Europe and the USA. Tell us, what are the cardinal differences between Western tattoo culture and Russian, in your opinion?
- In my opinion, in the West there is no such thing as “the client is always right”, here it is somehow more customary to trust the artist, and if you decide to sign up with the tattooer, then you respect your own choice.
The client here trusts your expertise in every way. I'm talking about the States, there are, of course, exceptions, as elsewhere. In Europe, the situation “make me a portrait of my daughter on the finger with the date of birth, I pay you for it” happens much more often, but definitely less often than in Russia. In our country, for some reason, you are considered service personnel, it infuriates. Oh yes, people allow themselves to bargain, in my experience, also only in Russia.
Although I believe that our domestic clients will be re-educated sooner or later, but this can only happen if more masters begin to bend their line. In general, the tattoo industry in Russia is quite young, and all changes will also occur, but, as always, with a lag.
What are your plans for further development?
- I have a lot of goals right now. First of all, to develop my studio with Sue, we plan to invite many cool guest artists, and make their experience with us as comfortable and unforgettable as possible.
I also want to visit different countries myself and really want to travel around South America.
Many people advise me to start making training videos on YouTube, but I can’t stand seeing myself in the recording, maybe I’ll do something on Patreon, because there is still a desire to share the accumulated knowledge. If this happens, it will definitely be dedicated to contouring, comfortable organization of the workspace and the advantage of hybrid machines over rotary ones.