Renowned tattoo artist and Sang Bleu magazine founder Maxime Büchi offers insights into travelling, communicating, and tattooing traditions around the world.
I come from Lausanne in Switzerland. We always travelled when I was a kid; my parents would take my two sisters and I away all the time - to Germany, to Italy (because my mother’s side of the family is Italian), to Finland, to France, to America, to Spain. It was that hippy thing of showing your kids the world. It gave me a taste for travel. Also we moved within Switzerland a few times, so I never had that perception of home being a fixed place. I remember as a kid, getting in the car really early with my duvet and me and my sister falling asleep in the back of the car. For us, that was home as well.
I grew up in a proper countryside village, and I never fitted in there very well. As soon as I could, I left - I grew up and studied in Lausanne, then I moved to Zurich, then to Paris for six months. Then I moved to London, then back to Switzerland for a while to do a tattoo apprenticeship with Filip Leu, who had tattooed me and then offered to take me as an apprentice.
I came to London for the first time in 2005, I was still a graphic designer at that time. I had a couple of friends here. The first time I came here, I stayed at a friend’s house in Brixton and I totally fell in love. I had a job opportunity here at a big design agency called North Design and felt instantly at ease. I had been living in Switzerland but in my brain I was not there - it was just my body. At that point, I was looking for any place that I somewhat belonged. That was what London was, immediately. I hadn’t had that feeling in Switzerland or in Paris.
I grew up as an outsider, and now that’s the place where I’m most at ease.
I’m interested in tattooing as an art, a culture, a tradition - what it symbolises, much more that a simple community. I’m at the crosspoint of so many different things. I founded Sang Bleu magazine which is just an expression of my lifestyle, but I’m not a magazine person either. I spend my time between fine art, fashion, and tattooing. I grew up as an outsider, and now that’s the place where I’m most at ease.
For me, America is the most interesting place as far as tattooing is concerned. The status of the tattoo artist is a little more defined and interesting than anywhere else. In Europe, people have expectations when they get a tattoo that are a lot more codified and pre-formatted by their cultural history.
I see being a tattoo artist as a sociologic or anthropologic observation. It’s a way to connect with the world, and with people who are not like me. I find that, in America, people have the most amazing stories. There are people there who literally live in parallel worlds; who never connect with each other. Which is quite disturbing and probably the cause of America’s inherent social and cultural incoherence, but as an artist I find that massively inspiring.
Americans are always looking for innovation and leadership. They don’t have a common past they can relate and refer to.
America is a young country which is in the process of building a national culture and identity. Americans are always looking for innovation and leadership. They don’t have a common past they can relate and refer to. They live in the present and the future (or a very recent past, as compared to the “old world”). Once you’ve been validated as a relevant, their commitment and involvement in any social/cultural endeavour is tremendous. As an artist, it is a blessing as long as you don’t let it get to your head, because in America, there is no system you can rest or rely on if you ever lose your momentum. It’s a double-edged sword.
My digital presence is pretty strong. I always loved communicating, exchanging. The Internet just expanded it to a global scale. As a tattoo artist, I get requests from people from all around the world. I keep a log of people and places, and when I have enough requests or enough desire to go somewhere, I just go. I’m about to go to New York. - it’s one of three places that I consider home. I still go back to Lausanne to my old shop (formerly Leu Family’s Family Iron Street Shop, now Rinzing’s Sacred Yantra) on a regular basis to see my friends and family. And then there’s London, obviously. London, Lausanne, New York. There are a few other places that I’ve really enjoyed working, like Tin Tin’s studio in Paris.
There are definitely particular styles of tattoos that are popular in particular cities. There’s a longstanding tattoo culture in Europe, but it’s only in the past twenty years that it’s taken on the self-awareness that it has now. In London, there are a lot of small tattoos inspired by western traditional tattooing culture - sailors and lowlifes and stuff like that. Small and simple. But then at the same time, London has been at the forefront of neo-tribal tattooing as well with legendary shops like Into You and Divine Canvas, which is something I personally relate to a little bit more.
In Switzerland, Japanese style tattooing is very big. There’s no pre-existing tattoo tradition. It’s a tabula rasa.
In Switzerland, Japanese style tattooing is very big. There’s no pre-existing tattoo tradition. It’s a tabula rasa. The Swiss mentality is quite pragmatic, but then again they like things that are done well. They don’t mind waiting, they don’t mind spending the money. When you take tattooing generally, Japanese traditional tattooing is the equivalent of European classical music. Historically, it’s the farthest that a certain practice has gone. It’s the main reference for people around the world. People in Switzerland want the best tattoo, so they go to the most advanced tattooing tradition, which is Japanese. People in Switzerland don’t relate to the traditional sailor tattoos at all - there’s no sailing in Switzerland!