We sat down at La Burra Tinta Tattuaggi Tattoo Studio in Florence, Italy, and met Mattia Lotti, the owner and tattoo artist of 20 years, and Valentina Dragotto, the shop manager and one of the main organizers of the annual Florence Tattoo Convention. Mattia talks about his beginnings as a tattoo artist in Florence, his artistic influences and his favorite artists, while Valentina discusses her work for the convention, how she got involved in the tattoo world and tribal tattoos.
ML: I have been interested or part of the tattoo world for around 20 years now. When I started taking an interest in the art of tattooing it was practically non-existent in Italy. Back then in Italy, people who had tattoos were either criminals or ex-convicts. I had little experience or contact with any actual artists, my closest contact to the tattoo world was through tattoo art magazines that came from Germany and England. After serving in the military I decided to dedicate my time to tattooing, but I still had to keep my other job, because I couldn’t live off tattooing in the beginning. After tattooing in my apartment for four years I had gained the skills, experience and maturity I needed to open my first tattoo studio in 2004. In 2009 I opened La Burra Tinta Tattuaggi with two other friends as partners and as of a few months ago I became the sole owner of the studio.
ML: The Florentine or Italian attitude towards tattoos, like the rest of Europe has changed quite a bit over time. First of all, there are a lot more customers and more work as tattoos are becoming more accepted in mainstream culture. Over time, the customer has also become more aware of quality of the art, demanding absolute professionalism and originality. I think that I have seen and experienced many different periods, trends and styles in the Italian tattoo world over the years. When you work alone or at the studio and are the main tattoo artist you need to adapt yourself to all the different styles and customer requests.
ML: I don’t have one specific style; I work according to the customer’s desires. I always try my best to tailor my own hand to the different requests to create an original piece of art for the customer. Personally, I like the traditional, old school style the most, I have been focusing my own art and designs in this style since 2005; I also really like traditional Japanese tattoo art.
VD: I have been involved with the Florence Tattoo Conventions since the first one in 2008. My ex-boyfriend, Lorenzo, also a tattoo artist in Florence, participated and tattooed at the convention and I was very much interested in taking part. The convention is now a big event in Florence, it is very successful and it continues to grow from year to year. It is our job to bring together a talented and unique group of tattoo artists from all over to come and share their art with everyone, and in the process, we have all become very good friends. We are trying to bring different cultural aspects to the convention by bringing large platforms into the hall for traditional tribal hand-poke artists who use very ancient tribal techniques and require more space and different instruments.
VD: In our conventions, as well as the tattoos and the tattoo artists, we also find it important to exhibit other forms of art; including onstage performances, large exhibitions spaces for sculpture, paintings, prints and other media, and artisan workshops from around the world. The tattoo artists are also free to exhibit and sell their own art, aside from tattooing, at their booths.
VD: I was first introduced to the tattoo world by my eldest brother, Stefano, who had started to get tattoos from many different artists. I got my first tattoo when I was 17 and that was when I began to develop a great passion for this world. I am fascinated by the history of tattoos, I love digging into the past and studying the early tribal tattoos that inspire a lot of contemporary tattoo art today, and the history of the ancient tattooed mummies.
VD: I love working in such a creative atmosphere with such creative people. Tattoos are my biggest passion and I am extremely lucky that I get to be surrounded by them and the talented people who create them everyday. I also enjoy seeing the creations and the art that is not the tattoo itself, the thought and dedication that goes into each tattoo is amazing. I feel that working with tattoos and tattoo artists really opens my mind and imagination. The artists themselves are usually very friendly, down-to-earth people and working with them is fun!
VD: I love many different styles, but I especially like the different tattoos and body art of distant tribes, far away from our ‘civilization’. I also like the traditional style, which is very popular here. In Florence, the ‘Master Fiorini’ taught many of the best tattoo artists in their beginnings, in the traditional style. However a lot of the cultural and artistic value of traditional tattoos today is lost in contemporary society, I think it is important to remember and to understand the world from which the traditional tattoos came from.
Many of my favorite contemporary tattoo artists are from Italy: Davide Andreoli (Italian Rooster Studio, Milan), Mattia Lotti (La Burra Tinta) , Heinz from Rome and also from abroad; Filip Leu from Switzerland, Master Horiyoshi from Japan… the list goes on and on.