London tattoo convention - tattoos by Rafel Delalande

An interview with Rafel Delalande

In an act of rebellion against a strict religious upbringing, Rafel Delalande’s discovery of punk and metal subcultures – combined with a passion for drawing and painting – opened the doors to the world of tattooing.

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Religion, black metal and the art of rebellion – an interview with Rafel Delalande

Having traversed the globe working as a travelling tattooer, he’s now settled at London’s Seven Doors studio where he continues to explore his craft to its fullest through collaborations, art shows and creative side projects.

Tell us about your background. Did you always aspire to be an artist?

Yes, I always drew and painted. I come from a big family, lots of siblings, so my way to set myself apart has always been by drawing or painting. I had always been encouraged to keep going with it… Later on in life, I tried art at University but it was definitely not for me as I always aspired to do more traditional illustrative work. That’s around the time I started getting tattooed and very soon after that, I began tattooing myself.

London tattoo convention - rafel delalande backpiece

Were you attached to any particular ‘tribes’ or scenes growing up? What were your earliest cultural influences? 

Growing up I was fascinated by metal-heads and punks quite early on; coming from a very religious background, I believe it was a way for me to separate myself from family and try to stand up as an individual. I remember being so intrigued by the Sepultura logo that was tagged in front of the church when I was around 7 or 8 years old.

Which artists or art movements have inspired your work?

I started tattooing in France. Around 2004, I got tattooed by Yann Black, then I met Jean Luc Navette – these two were my very first main influences in tattooing. Working in black and most of all trying to have their own identity. In 2006, I met my brother Guy Le Tatooer, at the time I was working only with dot work as I had discovered Tomas Tomas and Xed le Head’s work. My language was not tribal so I used dot work in other ways. During the many years I spent with Guy, we learned to develop our own language… it was a very exciting time!

Many of your stylistic markers, especially the black veins, are reminiscent of black metal artwork. Do you listen to a lot of black metal – if so, which bands are important to you?

The black veins are directly inspired by Alex Binnie’s work! But yes, I believe I became fascinated by them because of the logos of the bands I listen to. I do listen to a lot of metal music and have a special affection for black metal. Black metal has all the elements that I love about subcultures, the roughness and provocation of punk, the dark visuals and aesthetics of gothic and the power of metal… as I said before, coming from a very catholic background, the use of satanic imagery is something that appeals to me a lot. Some of my favourite bands are Carpathian Forest, Darkthrone, Tormentor for the classics and for newer stuff I do love bands like Mgła or Peste Noire.

London tattoo convention - palm tattoo by Rafel Delalande
London tattoo convention - rafel delalande

When did you first take the plunge to get your face tattooed? Do you think having a full coverage of tattoos is still viewed as an act of rebellion – or do you feel that society is more accepting of heavily tattooed folk now that tattooing has filtered into the mainstream?

I did my face bit by bit… I got a fly on my forehead by Guy Le Tatooer about 7 or 8 years ago, then I slowly continued. Alex Binnie initiated the veins on my face about 3 years ago – today my face is pretty much covered. I obviously think tattoos are more accepted nowadays but I also think that it’s possible to still push it to a less acceptable point. I do not think I ‘fit’ – and that’s a good thing! London is a very accepting city when it comes to difference so it’s far easier for me to look the way I do here than if I was living in Paris, for example.

Rafel Delalande (centre) with tattoo artist and collaborator Gangi
Rafel Delalande (centre) with tattoo artists Horitatsu Baba and Ganji. Each share the vein tattoos originally stylised by Alex Binnie

Do you have any rules about tattooing visible spaces on your own clientele?

I do not tattoo visible parts on people that often. I don’t like to have that responsibility… my choices in life are my own ones. I do like the aesthetic of visible tattoos so if somebody very heavily tattooed comes with a good idea for a face tattoo I will of course be more than happy to do it. I take the freedom to decide if I will do visible tattoos on clients or not. 

head tattoo by rafel delalande

Do you like to travel? How has this enriched your tattoo career and do you have a favourite travel or guest spot experience?

I travelled so much for tattooing, from Australia to Switzerland, from Hong Kong to New York, from Germany to New Zealand, all over Europe… I’ve been to many places in the world and met some amazing people. Since I started working at Seven Doors (London) though, I have been way more sedentary. Many years of traveling have been exhausting, and Jondix and Deno gave me the perfect place to work. I couldn’t wish for a better place. I still go to visit my friend Guy a few times a year, mostly in Mexico and Bangkok.

My favourite place to guest is the studio SSS (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) in Mexico City. It’s run by my friend and genius Dr. Lakra and is also a place where Guy Le Tatooer spends most of his time. I am also very much in love with Mexico.

front tattoo by rafel delalande

You’ve worked on quite a few art and tattoo collaborations in the past. What is the collaborative tattoo experience like? Do you have any more collabs planned?

I’ve been involved in many art projects lately, it feels great! It means that all that hard work and energy through the years does pay off. Also, Seven Doors organises events quite regularly which is always a good push.

I did work on tattoo collaborations these past few years, with Ganji, Skeleton Jelly and I have something going on with Jondix. I also have upcoming projects with Jenzie. Collaborations are exciting as we get to learn from each other – techniques and visions of tattooing can be so different that it’s a never-ending apprenticeship.

Can you tell us a little about the upcoming KIMONO SUIT project you’re working on?

On July 30th 2020* Seven Doors tattoo will host this beautiful project that I have the chance to be involved in… 8 of my favourite tattooers will do a collaboration with my friend Loco Mosquito. The idea is to design kimonos, 8 life size paintings have been done and will be showed at the same time as the kimonos themselves. Jondix , Gakkin, Ichibay, Dr. Lakra, Guy Le Tatooer, Deno, Tomas Tomas and myself will be showing our vision of a traditional kimono. It’s the most ambitious project I have been involved in so far so I am very excited about it.

*(note: now postponed due to COVID-19. Keep an eye on the @loco_mosquito_official Instagram page for updates, the exhibition will now debut in 2021)

London tattoo convention - backpiece tattoo by Rafel Delalande

What do you love most about tattooing? What changes, if any, would you like to see in the tattoo world moving forward?

There’s so many things that I love about tattooing! The relationship with customers, the friendship that I’ve built through years with fellow workers, the possibility to express myself and to stand out as an individual – tattooing as a profession has so many different and incredible aspects.

As with anyone that has been tattooing for more than ten years, I will say that there were aspects of tattooing that I did prefer before – but I honestly also think that the level of mastery has never been as high as it is today.

I really think I am no one to say how tattooing should evolve as there are so many different paths that are respectable, but if there’s one thing that I do despise it’s laziness.

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