Among the numerous realistic tattoo experts that come from Russia today, thirty-five-year-old Aleksandr Pashkov who is from Barnaul, Siberia, truly stands out. His highly elegant nature-inspired images in color and black-and-grey are lovingly composed and executed and are unsurpassed in their technical perfection. His versatility and relentless pursuit of perfection have let this quiet man from the Altai Mountains become one of the top masters in Russia. Enough reason to exchange a few words with Aleksandr Pashkov, tattoo virtuoso!
TM: Aleksandr, how does someone from Siberia become a tat-tooist—and such a good one on top of it? Did you have artists in your family?
AP: Actually, no, but our neighbor was a surrealistic painter. This impressed me enough as a thirteen-year-old to let me choose an education in art college. I have no idea what would have become of me without this neighbor! It was a revelation, opening up another world for me. But, as everywhere, there was no way to make a living as an artist, and I worked in construction for a while… An acquaintance of mine had done some tattooing in Moscow, and when he told me about this encounter of art and human on living skin, it appealed to me. In late 2005,1 got some basic equipment from the capital and started from home. My key moment was at the first tattoo convention in St. Petersburg—my first event—and I won third place in the best portrait category. I was literally shell-shocked when they called my name!
TM: I can imagine. How did your life change after that, with tattooing and this unexpected success?
AP: My life had a new direction! Suddenly I was someone in the scene. I felt accepted into the tattoo family. My self-confidence rose and I had the courage to exchange knowledge and experiences with my colleagues. It makes a big difference whether you just look at pictures on the net or if you actually watch a tattoo being done by a master.
TM: And you learned just by observation? Your own tattoos, like for instance your famous stone tribal back-piece with the gnomes, mostly are by Dmitrij Chikai, the man you always quote as your mentor…
AP: I got my first tattoo in Moscow, and the guy was the only tattooist I knew for a while. But then I met Dmitrij Chikai in Novosibirsk! He has been tattooing me ever since, and his technique and style are my absolute goal. In my opinion, his way is the best way. Entrust your body to a master, watch, and learn. Later on I developed, on my own, the individuality in technical procedures and creative output.
TM: Similarly to Chikai and other Russian artists, your roots are certainly in realism—mainly taken from nature. Where can you find your own creativity in this style?
AP: Of course I take some main motives from photos on the web and out of books, but the creativity lies in bringing them together, in the composition of an entire sleeve or back.
TM: Well, the composition is one thing that does make your work stand out—a flow that seems very natural. How do you connect the main designs and combine them with an unobtrusive background? Your feeling for proportions and dynamic movement are outstanding…
AP: Hmm, this simply develops by itself in my brain. It is a product of my education, experience, and instincts. It is not easily explained… It seems to come to me naturally. In fact, I usually dream my designs and compositions; they arrive literally overnight. I give myself a task in the evening and leave it to the subconscious. When I wake up in the morning, an image has shaped in my head, and I simply draw it.
TM: Sounds easy, but I guess this is this AP: There is a Russian expression for it: Nothing right will come in the night; everything will seem easier in the morning… Look at this Michelangelo sleeve. It is based on the Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel. A customer wanted the painting on his forearm, but really small… I told him it would be a silly idea, and we made a sleeve out of it, which I divided into different sections—almost like a comic book.
TM: Fascinating to see, indeed… At the Berlin Convention 2012, you worked on another sleeve with a skull, grapes, birds, and a chameleon. If you hadn’t brought in a few special features, this would have merely been a technically perfect tattoo, but nothing truly outstanding…
AP: Yes, the original idea of the Israeli client was a bit conservative, but I wanted to make it more interesting. I remembered that a chameleon can change its own color. So I started the sleeve near the wrist in black-and-grey, and as the tattoo progresses toward the upper arm and shoulder you see more and more colors entering the picture. The customer even came to Novosibirsk to get tattooed, and we finished it in Berlin.
TM: May I ask how long this piece took you? Russian realistic artists have a reputation to be super exact, but also rather slow…
AP: This one wasn’t very fast, about thirty-five hours… Perfection is essential for me. Everything has to be 100%. Always. My wife’s robin sleeve took about half a year, roughly one short session per week. Sometimes I went back into sections I thought I had already finished.
But in the meantime, I had picked up some new skills and tricks I wanted to apply. That’s why it took longer than usual…
TM: Considering all the details and finesse,
I’d say that’s not particularly slow and it was certainly worth it. And it is a good thing never to be happy with yourself, and to always try to keep on learning…
AP: Yes, I have a client now who won two first places in St. Petersburg four years ago. Now I am going over his tattoos again because I am not 100% happy with them anymore.
TM: You started traveling abroad and working in other countries, particularly Germany. What kind of an experience is that for you?
AP: I love my home town Barnaul, and I would never swap it for another place to live. But I have to admit there are countries where it is easier to live than in Russia. Luckily, I have already found a lot of friends abroad.
TM: Do you notice any differences when you work in Siberia, in Moscow or in a western country, such as Germany?
AP: It doesn’t make any difference to me. I just work… Or, now that you mention it, in Siberia the people have more heart and soul. People in Moscow aren’t as relaxed as we are. We Siberians just can’t help but love everybody. For example, I could never just cancel an appointment because I am tired or something. It would be disappointing to the person. We just can’t do it!
TM: This is exactly my own impression of Siberia and its people. Thank you so much for giving us this insight, Aleksandr!