Stéphane Chaudesaigues was first drawn to tattoos as a young child, and even back then he felt skin art's power and ability to remake the person who wears them in many profound ways. He began tattooing on his own skin when he was 13, and opened his own shop at the age of 19.
He has no formal art training, but is passionate about learning. His artwork is informed by innumerable trips to many museums to study painting and sculptures, as well as studying countless books about different techniques of painting and drawing.
"And I spent a lot time in tattoo shop asking for information or technical tips," says Stéphane. It was hard because I was very young and I had no money to pay for information, and back then there were no tattoo magazines and no internet!"
He persevered and over the past 20 years has become renowned for his photo realism and portraiture work, usually rendered in black and grey, but he relishes each and every chance he gets to work with strong, solid colors. He also really likes art from the 1930's and floral ornaments, a style he interprets for some of his tattoo designs. Above all he always likes to put "some poetry" into the designs he creates.
"I don’t do any tribal or Japanese-style designs because I don’t have any clue about the culture and symbolism behind these images and I don’t want to do something wrong or something I don’t fully understand. There's a very deep magic about these kinds of tattoos when you truly know the origin and meaning of the imagery, and (for Japanese traditional tattoos) when you are tattooed by a real Japanese master," says Stéphane.
In his own skin, Stéphane wears work by Shane O’Neill, the only person he's collected work from for the past five years.
"Shane is a good friend of mine who is tattooing me. I like his personality and he is very talented. I have work by Guy Aitchinson and Robert Hernandez too. I like to be tattooed by people I admire. I am also inspired by architecture, other tattoo artists, painters like Mucha, photographers such as Doisneau, and slices of everyday life."
Stéphane's dream client would be someone with very white skin, skin that really shows all the different tones of grey as he works on the tattoo as well as afterwards.
"I also like to have client with a rich personality so he can become my friend. My dream situation is when a customer comes to me and gives me a subject for the tattoo and lets me create the image. My favorite clients of all are the clients who are happy with their tattoo!"
He's noticed that sometimes when clients start to talk to him that they appear to feel a little intimidated, which bothers him a bit.
"I don’t feel like I am scary, maybe the fact that I don’t speak English creates a kind of distance? So I would like to tell people that I always have someone who can translate English to French with me so please don’t be afraid to talk to me, I am a nice guy — at least I hope I am."
Stéphane enjoys being a tattooist for many reasons, but top of the list is that a tattoo artist can "be free and live outside of society but also has the money to feel free to do whatever he wants."
When he's not working, he enjoys spending time with his children and his granddaughter, as well as body building with my son and friends. His vision for the future is growing his family business. The family team has several projects in the works, such as the "Chaudesaigues Awards," that they would like to give to an artist who has been selected by a jury of international tattoo artists, after they review a comprehensive portfolio of work in whatever mediums that artist works with.
The first Chaudesaigues Award will be presented at "The Best in the Midwest" convention, which will be held February 10-12 2012 at the Mid America center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
The winner will receive an amazing piece of art in bronze, made especially for this event by Stéphane's brother Patrick (who has created custom awards for conventions for over 20 years), as well as a U.S trip (for Europeans) or a European trip (for Americans), a meeting with a tattooist that the winner admires, a free entry pass for major art museum and an article about him or her in a tattoo magazine.
"It’s a big and exciting project. It was important for me that the 1st award will be presented in the USA, because that's where my career started, American magazines and clients trusted me and my work. I am very proud of that," says Stéphane.
Patrick and Stéphane are also working together to develop a collaboration concept of Patrick's which is called "Tatouage 21." The goal is promote and develop skin art, provide a health information center (focused on a new French health law) and a forum where all tattooists can share information, ask and answer questions and show their work.
"Through Tatouage 21 we will try to offer seminars from famous tattooists all over the world. We would like to have tattooers with different styles and techniques come to teach in France, so we can all discover different way to tattoo. These seminars would be by professionals, for professionals only of course. We are working on it and hope to announce the dates and name of the artist who will be giving the first seminar soon."
Tatouage 21 is always wrapping up a project on Fused Tattoo Machines, handmade machines created in collaboration with other tattoo machine builders, and would love to present a convention in France … " but I don’t know when that will happen," says Stéphane. "I really need more than just 24 hours in each day."