We jumped on the chance to have Alboy interview Stizzo when he went to do a guest spot at Cloak and Dagger, London, after the London Tattoo Convention. Renowned the world over for his style, we couldn’t miss such an opportunity. It was great to find out more about his background and how his style developed.
Interview – Alfredo “Alboy” Guarracino
Photography – Karolina Amberville/Stizzo
Hi, Stizzo. This interview won’t be just focused on your job as a tattoo artist. It will underline your personality and your background, where you are from, which subculture you belong and belonged to, your passions outside tattooing and your future projects. Let’s start with introducing you: what is your real name, where is your nickname from, and where are you from?
I’m from San Donato (Milano) and my real name is Stefano but at some point in my life, I’m not too sure when, someone has given me this nickname, and I’ve had it since then.
When did you get a feel for skateboarding, and how much did that passion affect your life as a teenager in the 90’s?
In the late 80’s, skateboarding was mainstream in Milano and there were loads of crews everywhere. With the circulation of the first magazines on the subject, the whole thing spread even more and it got my attention too, together with Punk and Hardcore music, which was ever-present both in skate contests and magazines.
The step that would have consecrated you as a professional skater was the change from the ‘toy board’ to the ‘pro board’. I bought my first board, a Jason Jesse Mini, from Germani Skate Shop in ’89. Skateboarding has influenced my whole adolescence. The passage from wheels to snow was quite fast. My first snow-surf was in 1992.
Straight Edge has recently become almost an adjective. Most people know roughly what it means, but not everyone knows what it really is and what it means for those who follow that lifestyle. Could you explain to us why and when you started adhering to this ideology, as many guys in the 90’s? And, above all, what is Straight Edge truly about?
Straight Edge is a lifestyle. It doesn’t constantly force sacrifices upon you, you take it easy and go with the flow with the choices you’ve made, without regrets or the need to refuse drugs and alcohol. It’s a lifestyle far away from any bad habit.
I remember in the early 90’s, in my town the music scene was so strong – almost the half of the whole scene. We were a crew of teenagers and were influenced by everything coming out of our favourite bands. There were those who were nuts on Punk, and the ones in love with faster and less melodic music, like me. The punk hardcore ‘Gas’, and before them ‘Reality’, represented and still represent a lot to me.
Milano is a constantly changing city, it’s for sure a key place for the Italian subcultures. How did you live in the 90’s? What interests did you have, and what kind of connection did you have with the city?
Our link to Milano was exclusively related to music. In other words, our Saturday afternoon was a stop over to Steve at Zabriskie Point and to Luca Cattaruzza’s music stand at the local fair. We could buy, sell and trade records and LPs or get informed on the latest concerts and music events. There was a magic atmosphere surrounding the whole thing: punks, skins and str8 edges all together united, and loads of people attending the concerts.
What has radically changed in you since 20 years ago?
Nothing has changed. I’m the same as I was before with the same taste and interests. But now I live for my sons, my wife Stefania, and my job. Anyway, I can’t help myself with music, I always strive to keep on playing on stage with enthusiasm.
Tattooing: without any doubt you represent today a benchmark for many tattoo artists. Could you tell us how you approached this field and when you started wishing to learn it?
I got tattooed at the end of the 90’s and a world was opened before my eyes. Since I was a child I’d never stopped drawing, and by getting tattooed, I discovered new drawing techniques to identify myself with. Bold lines and solid colours, that was tattooing for me. I began drawing day and night, copying everything I saw on the first Tattoo Revue magazines, then a guy from Peschiera wanted to buy my original drawings. I started tattooing in his studio, and after a year, I realised that Milano could put me in the public eye and how important that was. My life changed when I met Michelangelo who gave me the first technical notions on tattoo machines and about this job. Thanks, Master.
Who were your main reference points when you started tattooing?
Michelangelo for the technique, Gianmaurizio Fercioni for the history and devotion to tattooing, and the California scene for the style and the drawing taste.
Every tattooist should have a list of objectives to achieve, challenging himself day by day both technically and stylistically. How did you handle your beginner period? Did you have a proper apprenticeship, or did you have a mentor who taught you everything you know? How was the tattoo scene in the early 2000’s?
Let’s say that in the 90’s and the early 2000’s it was much harder than now to approach the field. It was very difficult to find advice and references for your work and to buy machines and professional equipment. It was fundamental for me to learn how to make needles, a job that every old school tattoo artist knows quite well. Soldering, cleaning and bagging hour after hour. The only link we had with the tattoo world was coming from the magazines like Tattoo Revue and Tattoo Life/Tattoo Energy.
The first tattoo conventions were a great experience. For me, it was an awesome, brand new world. But the whole thing changed thanks to some great Italian tattoo artists who, by appreciating my work, gave me a great boost to keep on going and I’m very grateful for that.
My real goal is my personal satisfaction with my job.
Your painting style is your identity. Your flash paintings are a perfect example of constant research and study. Your technique is absolutely personal and original. What were your references in the past? How did your style change and why?
I started as a generic painter without any sort of background – 100% autodidact! Tattooing and everything surrounding it, like paintings and flash tattoos, have always fascinated me – bold lines, solid colours, no dynamicity and no perspective. That’s what I love: the attention to detail, the elegance of the shape without falling into realism or a cartoony look.
I can’t, or can only very rarely, get inspiration from contemporary artists at all. I’m too fascinated by how vintage artists from the early 20th century painted and made ‘mistakes’. Every little tattoo flash can give me a spark to create something new and original.
“The Best of Times was born with the idea of setting up a family, a school, and a reference point of the Italian traditional tattoo style.”
You’ve had a few chances to travel to the USA. What drove you to go to the other side of the world? Why the States? Could you tell us about your first time on American soil?
My first time was in Sacramento more than ten years ago. I was pretty much a beginner and I was constantly hearing from the California scene as the most creative and wide one. Magazines such as Tattoo Life started to publish pictures and interviews on artists like Grime, Scott Sylvia, Wrath, Chris Conn and Theo Mindell. I was amazed by every single one of those guys’ work, and I couldn’t believe that all of it was right there in California between Sacramento, San Raphael and San Francisco.
I knew the Forever Tattoo team who were working at American Graffiti Studio at the time, and they invited me to the Sacramento convention. I definitely didn’t give it a second thought, and I decided to go! And I was actually right, the first time there was very gratifying to me above all for the artistic side. There was a drastic change and an important turning point in my career.
During the years, you have improved your technique when making tattoo machines. How did you learn about the process? Who taught you how to design and assemble them? What do you look for in a tattoo machine?
The tattoo machine is the means by which our ideas get etched onto the skin. It’s part of our lives and it’s extremely important to know every single secret and component of them. The first person who introduced me to it was Michelangelo, a very important Milanese artist, well-known for his supreme working technique. I’ve never met anybody so knowledgeable about tattoo machines, and even now he can always surprise me with something new I wasn’t aware of.
My machines are designed to work mainly on high voltage, with a support of an adequate amperage, not less than 3 amps. The liner machine has to work well on low power with thin needles like 3RL, or even 1RL, and the shader machine has to be strong, fast and constant so that I can work edgeways and on the needle tip.
Your experience as a tattooist over the years has given you the chance to collect hundreds of paintings, books and prints from different parts of the world. Tell us about that passion and how much it affects your painting.
Fortunately, I’m not the only one who has a feeling for drawing and painting. It is awesome how at the tattoo conventions there is a constant trade of prints and original paintings with loads of tattoo artists. What I’m most grateful for is to see them, and quite a lot of people who are just approaching the world of tattooing, just pop by my stand and show me or give me their works as a gift. That makes me realise that my dedication is an example for a lot of people. And it really is a great source of satisfaction, believe me.
The Best of Times is widely considered one of the strongest tattoo studios in Italy. How was that idea born? Who collaborates with you and what kind of feedback did you get from people from the time you opened it until now?
The Best of Times was born with the idea of setting up a family, a school, and a reference point of the Italian traditional tattoo style. I immediately realised how much enthusiasm many people had for that idea, and this allowed me to make the whole thing real. Nowadays the people working for me are Max Brain, Pellico, Viviana, Matti Angeli, and Michelangelo, one week per month.
The Alfa Romeo is without any doubt another true, fundamental passion of yours. Why the Alfa? Tell us when you started to get passionate about one of the most important Italian car brands in the world and what the Alfa represents for you.
For me the Alfa is Milano. I’m fascinated by the history of the factory, the designers, the collaborators, and the people who created what I consider to be mechanical jewels. Behind a model there isn’t just a design, there is a story made by men, by people who gave all the knowledge they had to it. I both see it and feel it when I get into a Milano masterpiece. As collectors, it is our responsibility to preserve these masterpieces for the future without forgetting the history of our city and of Italy itself.
How do you see your future? What projects do you have in the pipeline?
Let’s say that my vision will never change: I want to be satisfied with my work. I’ll always strive to find that satisfaction by constantly looking for references and maintaining a classic, elegant style. My latest project is a book of 100 paintings, The Best of Times book.
Best Of Times – Milano, Italy