“Forming thoughts into two-dimensional figures, my hands are driven by intuition, infinity takes shape under your skin.”
Is it up to us to decide what principles we choose to guide us in our lives, or is all this coded in our genes? Is this a skill we have from the day of our conception? And is this where our world view that later controls our actions and beliefs stems from?
The direction in which our interests develop is, to some extent, undoubtedly predestined. which slice of the cake of life we choose for our vocation will move us forward on our path to gain the experience we need for our personal growth.
The goal is the same, it is only the roads that take you there that vary. Whether you are a manual worker, an engineer with a degree or a devoted tattoo artist, any path can take you to the gate of perfection, but you can only gain personal experience on the path you have chosen, which you can then use to achieve personal growth.
Otte Timár turned to tattooing two decades ago on the advice of someone close to him, and it was with this decision that he determined the areas from which he would gain experience throughout his life...
The alchemist’s goal is the transfiguration of matter. Rudolf Steiner says it is not what you paint that is important, but what you think of during the creative process; what you feel as the painting is emerging on your canvas. Over the years, tattooing has become a sort of magical practice for me. On the physical level, ink enters the skin, and on the mental level, an idea is conceived. For this you need a kind of connection. This originates from the world above and is manifested as we connect to our clients mentally. We try to map their ideas and world views in a two-dimensional, graphic form.
As we work, infinity takes shape, that is, the infinity of the mind. This spiritual link that requires certain emotions to develop is absolutely necessary. These are the feelings that simultaneously develop in me, the artist, as I work and in the client over this shared experience. For me, it is important for tattooing to be considered a ritual art again, just like it was in ancient times. I can’t agree with the consumerist approach to tattooing that lacks spirituality; I believe that both parties need to prepare for this “initiation”. The client must prepare spiritually, mentally and physically, as this is a painful procedure, and we, as tattooists, need to get in the right state of mind to be able to create. We need to tune in to the topic so that we can make an energy imprint on the client’s skin that is of real value. Every tattoo artist should spend several years mastering this kind of immersion. Of course, some artists are just naturals, but if you can’t do it instinctively, it’s worth the time to learn it.
If you have ever had a Thai massage, you probably know what I mean. It isn’t news to anyone that Asian cultures are much more open towards spirituality than western, materialistic cultures. Here in Hungary, we are lucky that, because of our geographic location, we are somewhere between the two worlds and two viewpoints. Hungarians can be open towards spirituality, yet they understand the tendency of the west to seek comfort.
Thai massage therapists always start the massage by placing their palms together, closing their eyes and requesting a blessing for the activity they are about to commence. In doing so, they express their humility towards both the task and the guest.
I implement this in tattooing; I ask my clients for their permission to begin at the start of every session. After that, I place both my hands on the carbon paper on top of the skin, I close my eyes and I wait in a kind of meditative state until I see the image of the completed tattoo. I wait until the IMAGE emerges in my IMAGINATION. I create an IMAGE of what I would like to create so that I will be ABLE to create it. If there is no IMAGE, I won’t be ABLE to fulfil the task. It may seem like mere wordplay (in Hungarian, “image” and “able” are homonyms), but I would like to highlight how adeptly the Hungarian language can express this hidden spiritual meaning.
I wait until the image is fully formed; until I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. At this point, it still only exists on a mental level. I transfer this to the astral plane, to the spiritual world, by linking it to an emotion. I feel delight at seeing how happy my client is when he or she sees the completed tattoo in the mirror. In my imagination, I have already experienced this emotion and seen this image of the client going to the mirror, looking into it and loving what he or she sees there. This makes me happy, and for a moment I can experience this happiness. It is at this moment, through the emotions experienced, that the spiritual and material worlds become connected. Because of this, the tattoo will be exactly what my client dreamed about. From that point on, I will listen to music, talk or sing, depending on my mood, but I will no longer consciously think about the pattern I’m working on. My mind simply tracks the picture in my imagination as if I had entered GPS coordinates in a navigation system; it works automatically. At this point, I use no energy whatsoever in thinking about my task at hand. I don’t even think about what colours to use; I automatically take and use the ink that is best for the given detail. It is only the soul that is working, and the hand follows.
Naturally, I never force my ideas on my clients. What I pass on depends on how receptive they are. This is something you feel immediately when you meet someone. In any event, I go through my few-minute-long ritual, but I am accepting if someone is not responsive to such things. Fortunately, most people do like it as they see the humility in it. I really try to stay a passive participant in this shared experience we call tattooing.
I must add that I don’t take all of this too seriously, and just so that you can see this is true: I’ve been laughing about this idea of taking the lidocaine spray I use, putting it in a mace-like container used by priests to give blessings, and using it that way. Usually I’ll do such things for a joke, not seriously...
Of course, we are talking about experience that took 20 years to garner. In my own way, I stick to my habits, but by no means am I obsessed with esotericism. I don’t even think of myself as a person guided by it. It is undeniable, however, that I’ve had a certain spiritual approach ever since I was born. It was there at the beginning as an instinctive presence, but for a while now I have been making a conscious effort to get it in tune. As the years go by, if you’re lucky, you will realise how the world around you works. There are source laws that you set off and that return to you; a thought, a sentence or an act is enough, and you will receive the same, maybe years later. When you become aware of this, you can start using this knowledge in your everyday life, and you will see that it works in practice. Lately, I’ve been focusing on self-knowledge a lot, and I’m getting better at recognising these patterns. I have come to similar realisations without any kind of religion or clearly defined philosophy. It is more the result of how I’ve been going about finding my path. Through this, it is possible to get rid of all spiritual suffering. All you have to do is dissolve the idea of good and evil as separate concepts in your mind. There is no such thing as good or evil; there are just events that happen to us.
It took me years to realise this, and because of the way my life turned out, I was eventually led here through the experience of tattooing.
In the late 1990s, I was a teenager living in Rácalmás, near Dunaújváros, with my parents. Towards the end of secondary school, I started to feel a kind of pressure at home to figure out what I would do next. My father, who as a young man was a naval officer, wanted me to have an ordinary job such as an engineer or something else deemed socially acceptable. Moreover, at the school I attended, I would have been condemned to work in 3 shifts at the lathe at the ironworks. I wanted something else. As a chronically uninterested student, I usually spent classes doodling in my exercise books. One of my sisters, who has since become a famous ceramic artist, noticed this and asked if it had occurred to me to take up tattooing. Before that, I had had zero involvement with tattooing. The thought of being a tattooist had never even crossed my mind. The only thought I’d had about it related to my love for Guns N’ Roses, a band I knew were inked, but I had never thought about having tattoos myself or doing tattoos for others. This was in 1998. My sister had a friend called Norbi Beke, who owned Poppy Puppies Tattoo in Budapest near the Astoria Hotel. (It was here that I first met you when you came to Norbi for the pictures you later published in Tattoo Magazine.)
My sister arranged it with Norbi that at the weekends, when I wasn’t in school, I could travel to Budapest, and he would let me sit next to him and observe him working. Norbi didn’t teach me as such, but he let me watch and pick up what he knew. This was entirely untypical at that time.
I liked the cool attitude I saw in the studio. The Corporal, who was the only person selling tattoo equipment in Budapest at the time, was there regularly. He and his friends were always hanging out and drinking at Norbi’s, and there was always drama because Norbi didn’t want them to drink in the shop. But of course, they got along well.
As I was watching them, I was thinking that life could really be like that, that these could be my everyday problems...
Looking back, I think Norbi was a good teacher. I think first impressions are very important, and so is the person that leads you towards certain knowledge. I’m very grateful to Norbi Beke, and I know that it is what he taught me in those early days that made my technique so accurate. Norbi Beke drew dead straight lines with type 1 needles. No one could do it better, and probably no one can now.
I bought my first machine from the Corporal, but I later realised it wasn’t a global brand as I had been told; it was manufactured here in Csepel. In spite of this, it worked well. I spent about a year’s worth of weekends at Norbi. When I felt that I was ready to do tattoos on my own, I realised that I didn’t have enough money for equipment. I took a job building a fence at Hungaroring (we had to keep German tourists out who kept jumping onto the stage), for which I got paid HUF 3,500 a day. I was putting aside money all summer so that I could buy the machine, the transformer and some grips and needles from the Corporal, but I wasn’t even aware that you had to solder the needles. I had very little information; all I knew was what I had picked up during my time at the studio. As I said, Norbi never sat me down and explained to me how things worked. If I asked him a question, he answered, and that was that.
Besides, he wasn’t a very communicative person, and he wasn’t a big fan of people, especially those who kept asking questions. To demonstrate this, he had a saying that was legendary. When he wasn’t working on a tattoo, he was usually sitting at his desk with his back to the shop’s entrance. At that time, it was very common for strangers to come in and ask questions about tattoos. I can remember a scene that happened several times in almost exactly the same way, albeit with different people. Two anxious kids stand at the door feeling uncomfortable. They are trying to speak to Norbi’s back, “Excuse me, could we ask a question?” Norbi turns around, looks at them reluctantly and says, “Sorry, but why don’t you get the fuck out of here?”
I have tremendous respect for Norbi, but maybe now you see why, after learning the basics, I had to teach myself everything.
At that time, most people in my life were quite skeptical about me becoming a tattoo artist. They kept saying that this was just a craze, that it would pass and then I wouldn’t have a job. Although they openly regarded tattooing as not much of a job, I already saw some potential to earn money. Still, I wasn’t driven by the money I could make; indeed, I wasn’t focusing on that at all at the time. It did, however, become important later when I started to take myself and my tasks more seriously. My carefree attitude provided a sort of weightlessness at first, which meant that I would take any job, no matter how much it paid, and work towards establishing my technique.
When I started doing tattoos in Dunaújváros, I announced that I would ink my first 10 clients for free. Word got around fast on the housing estate that “he can draw and he has a real machine”. This was big at that time as most tattooists used tattoo guns made with Walkman motors. The promotion worked, and the 10 free jobs brought in other clients. Things started picking up, and more and more people wanted tattoos from me.
However, after that I still found it hard to charge people for the tattoos. There is a disease that tattooists who really like this job have. When you take the machine in your hand and you do what you would be happy to do anyhow, you don’t understand why others should pay you for something you do because you enjoy it. Several times this has led to me not having money for ink for a while. I had to ask for a loan from my parents so that I could start the next job. Unfortunately, at this time, I couldn’t show my parents what I wanted them to believe: that it was a good decision to become a tattoo artist...
Then came the first summer I spent at Lake Balaton doing tattoos. It was in 2000, in Füred, with Ákos Medve at Manitou Tattoo. He was the first drummer in the band Quimby. That was a real rock-and-roll place with a lot of work, which meant I was able to gain a lot of experience that summer. One day, I did 14 tattoos in a row from 10am to 4am the next morning. Drawing lines, filling in − by mid-summer I could do it with my eyes closed. Finally, I was making money, and I started feeling like a real tattoo artist. At that time, it was impossible to specialise in one style as you had to take every job, but on a professional level, this period lay the groundwork for later, more complex tattoos.
I spent the following summer with Ákos again, working together in Tihany. However, this season wasn’t as good as the previous one. You should know that Ákos was partying so hard that it was even too much for the other members of Quimby who liked partying. As far as I remember, this was the reason he had to leave the band. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore, so my long-term plans for doing tattoos at Lake Balaton were over.
After doing tattoos for 3 years, I found myself building fences again. This time we were enclosing a larger area for Mangalitzas on the Hortobágy plain.
I remember I was tying wire knots at sunset when I got a call. It was Attila Pál, saying that they were looking for tattoo artists to go to Germany. He also worked as a tattooist, and he was the guitarist of a band named Szlogen.
A few weeks later, in the autumn of 2001, I was practically the first Hungarian tattooist to travel to Leipzig. None of us were working in the west at the time. Later, a lot of Hungarian tattooists worked in that studio, but I was the first who took the whole bunch from Lake Balaton. This was at least 6 people.
During these years, we lived in a 35 sqm apartment, sometimes all 8 of us. If you wanted to use the bathroom, you had to stand in line. But we were laughing all the time...
I worked there for 3 years, and I came home to Hungary every 6 weeks. After 3 years, in a move that surprised me as well, I went to Croatia.
In Germany, we were making good money, several times more than Hungarian salaries, with nonfigurative lower back tattoos and stars. Although at first the store manager only gave us 6-7% of the income we generated.
When I came home after a 6-week period, I could finally put on my Hungarian clients the tattoos I had always wanted to do. This is when the ‘Mark Ryden’ look appeared in my work, like a style transplanted onto the skin.
In Rácalmás, my parents had part of their house converted so that I could use it as a studio. I began working there when I was at home, and it was really peaceful.
While in Trogir on holiday one summer, the idea suddenly struck me that I should work there. I had loved history ever since I was a child, and this town had plenty of it. King Béla IV had walked its streets and the houses he saw are still standing today. I found a place for my studio in a 400-year-old building, and I had an acquaintance who worked in an 800-year-old house. In Trogir, when you touch a wall, history starts flowing into you from the ancient stones like knowledge flows in the Matrix. I didn’t speak Croatian at all, yet I soon founded a company, and in 2003 I rented the apartment I mentioned for the studio.
I found an adequate place on the second floor of a 400-year-old building in the center, on a square with 4 palm trees and an ice cream parlour. The entrance to the building was a beautiful, carved stone arch. Word got around quickly that I had moved into the 2nd floor, and a few days later a neighbour told me that I would be the next mayor as I was the talk of the town. Old ladies were attending church more often and were throwing money in the offering box like crazy, as they were sure that Satan had arrived in Trogir.
Besides me, there was one other tattooist in Split, but I knew his work was disastrous.
Business was good. I mostly inked the locals, and I had some tourists come to my studio in high season. It was summer and my friend Zoli Zona and I were living a carefree life, blowing all the money we made on food and alcohol.
When I’m old and reminiscing about my time as a tattoo artist, the summers I spent in Croatia will be among my greatest memories.
I returned home in the autumn of 2006, and then I went back to Germany again.
Professionally, I started to gain international recognition with my work. At the Berlin Tattoo Convention, for example, I won first prize in the „realistic” category with my grey-black Pietà, coming before Robert Hernandez who was then ranked second. I was ranked second and third at several events during those years. A bit later, in 2012, I entered the London Convention for the first time and came third in one of the “best of day” contests. This London event is widely considered the most prestigious among the conventions.
German magazines started to write about me, and it seemed like everything was suggesting I should concentrate on my presence in Germany.
In the meantime, I went on a tour in Spain. I was living my life quite randomly at that time. I would choose a country I wanted to go to, send my portfolio to a few places, and within a few weeks I would be there, working.
I met my wife during this period of my life. More precisely, Márti and I had known each other since secondary school, but she found me later thanks to the social media site iwiw. She was working in South Tyrol, in a hütte by a ski slope. We agreed to meet, and we ended up moving in together after the second time we met. Our relationship depended on whether she would decide to go back to Northern Italy to work. She decided to stay with me and commit herself to our relationship, and I strived to do everything so that she wouldn’t regret her decision.
Soon after that, James and I started going to Frankfurt regularly to the Art ’n’ Style. Márti also came with us. We mostly inked American soldiers, but then they were all sent to Iraq. Suddenly we had no work to do, when only a few days earlier we had been booked in advance for months.
If I’m not mistaken, it was Csabi Müllner who came up with the Magic Moon story of how the 3 of us went to Erkelenz. My wife worked with us as an interpreter during these years. She speaks multiple languages and had previously translated for James and many other Hungarian tattoo artists.
Márti and I worked in several studios in Germany, but our days of travelling came to an end when we decided to start a family. My wife stayed at home, and in 2012, our son Magor was born. Then, 4 years later, came Temes.
She and I complement each other very well. Márti is a meticulous person. She took over the whole task of managing my clients. She registers appointments and handles any and all problems. It is not our work or talent that we, as tattoo artists, primarily make money from; we sell a kind of trust that the client needs, as he or she must believe that we will work with great care to make his or her dream tattoo come true. You can be an exceptional artist, but if you are completely unreliable, such as with appointments or other issues, you won’t do better professionally or financially than a less talented colleague who works precisely and regularly. I’ve always been this undisciplined artist. Márti is everything I am not. She answers every email on time. Thanks to her, I’m now booked a year in advance. She knows exactly what this profession is about, and she knows my personal and professional needs, which makes her a great assistant.
Currently, I currently travel to Switzerland regularly for work. I established a business together with my best friend, who is a native Swiss, a few years ago. We have a 300 sqm studio where 15 tattooists currently work, all of them talented Hungarian artists. From the beginning, this business has been built on my work. I’m still the one responsible for getting good tattooists to work in the studio and for making sure everything is OK professionally. This is a true success story.
My other place is the Art Faktors in Essen. I mostly go there because of its prestige. The world’s top tattoo artists work here, such as Domantas Parvainis, Led Coult, Pavel Krim and Valentina Ryabova. I could go on and on.
I love both places, and I really feel at home in both. I’m friends with the owners, and I can work in a caring environment. Having done tattoos for 15 years, I know exactly what conditions you need to be able to work well and in a relaxed manner. I fly four times a month, to Switzerland and Germany.
We moved to Visegrád in Hungary a few years ago, as this is where we found our new home. Before that, Márti and I lived in Budapest in the 3rd district. I rented an apartment there as well as a studio, but we wanted to have more space. We wanted a garden and real human relationships. I started searching for houses for sale on the Internet. After the certainty I felt in Trogir, I once again felt my heart start to beat faster when I saw an unexpected opportunity. It was the ad for the house we now live in. The picture of the house and the valley it faces was taken from such an angle that I immediately knew this was the perfect golden ratio for me. Our home faces the Apátkút Valley, the botanical garden. There are vast hills in the distance, and as they cover one another, they emanate perfect harmony. It was as if I had always longed to be here.
I took up teaching a while ago. I have seminars on Skype for which you can register for a fee. There are usually 10-20 participants, and we have 90-minute conference calls during which I cover the current material. I answer every professional question they ask. This is a great, interactive opportunity and I enjoy it.
I also contribute to the trainings held by the Budapest Tattoo Academy with the Inkcontrol video material I put together. This can guide those who are interested in tattooing to a point where they can decide for themselves if they want to work in this field. I can see that no one pays enough attention to beginners, so, through having no other options, they must decide on their own whether to take up tattooing. They will typically order a starter kit online and start inking people, but, after a certain number of disappointments, many beginners leave the profession. Inkcontrol may help them get a good picture of the requirements they need to meet before they start using a machine so they can decide if this job is right for them. Moreover, no one will have to wear the terrible, unwanted designs these beginners would inevitably create.
At the BTA, they start the academic year with my material, which involves watching 40 videos several times. This provides the basic knowledge you should consider as a tattooist, and it also includes many professional ethical issues. At the end of every year, I give a 2-day masterclass in-person, so that students won’t think of me just as an image from the videos − so that they can see I’m a flesh-and-blood human being...
On the first day, I do the tattooing and they watch me; the next day, they ink and I comment on it.
Recently, I rented a place in the center of Visegrád, so there is a Red Lion Tattoo in Hungary now as well. This is a place where I can work in a peaceful environment. This is my alchemist lab.
Even in Hungary, 70% of my clients are foreigners. I’m lucky in Visegrád; it is a popular destination for tourists with good hotels and restaurants. My foreign clients book a room online, a driver picks them up at the airport and they are here in the city in no time.
Red Lion is not the name of a studio, even though all my studios have been called this; it is much more the reflection of a mentality. Red Lion is the elixir of alchemists; it is the way to self-knowledge. It represents inner alchemy and my own personal journey as, through the stations in my life, I have gotten closer to my goals, step by step. Through tattooing, I got to know people, and I found myself in unexpected situations. I have learnt and am still learning from these, and I’m still changing. I chose this path, and there have been a lot of impulses that provided opportunities to get to know myself. The Red Lion is the ultimate goal, the elixir, the state I wish to achieve. I hope I will reach it one day, maybe still in this life...