Written by Aly E
As an avid collector of body art, I was psyched when Gabriel Cece agreed to a "cyberinterview" with me for TattooNOW. Although the main thrust of my interest in tattoos has always been the end result, I have also come to appreciate the relationships that develop between the client and the tattoo artist during the process of collaborating on and eventually completing a piece. It only makes sense that in the course of spending anywhere from 20-50 hours on a large piece, that two people will have some pretty interesting conversations! Well, unfortunately I don't have enough skin to tour the country and have these interviews in person with all the artists I like and admire during the creation of amazing new body art, but cyberspace has allowed me to have these conversations virtually, and now, to convey them to you. Hopefully through the course of our exchange, you will get a perspective on the artist's philosophy, training, and personality, as well as motivations and thoughts on tattooing. For more about Gabriel and his amazing art, tattoos and bookings, please visit his custom site http://gabrielcecetattoos.com/.
Cece, a self-taught tattoo artist, now works for Blue Horseshoe Tattoo in Virginia Beach. During the ten years that he has been active in the industry, he has hung his hat at Alter Ego (nj), Lola's Hot and Flying (nj), 4a's Classic Tattoos (nc), and Resonance (ny), among other notable shops. A recent addition to the tattoonow.com clientele, Gabriel had a question and answer section developed on his site, but I had a few more to ask. I contacted the young artist and he was generous enough to take a few minutes out of his busy schedule for a cyberchat with me for this article.
TN: "Growing up, what type of art were you attracted to?"
Cece: "I have to say I was attracted to impressionist and surrealist art, because that is what surrounded me in my mother's home. I'm still very attracted to surrealism, but impressionism in art just doesn't do it for me anymore, as it seems as elementary as my early interests."
TN: "Artistically, are there lessons you learned before you moved past impressionism?"
Cece: "I can't say that I learned much way back then, other than an interest in reproducing things with a little bit more of a realistic approach...I'm not a portrait artist or realism guy; I like to make things more vibrant, more exciting, more interesting."
TN: "What type of art did you enjoy creating while growing up?"
Cece: "I've always enjoyed drawing with colored pencils or markers, painting, building, and decorating anything I could get my hands on. As a kid, I built model kits of cars and stuff, carved tree limbs and whatnot, melted things together for no apparent reason, and decorated as much of my possessions as I could with markers, stickers, clippings, and rubber bands....rubber bands you ask? There is a photo of a "beat generation" box set on my site ("woven," found in 35mm page) that I gave to a friend of mine for her birthday in 1996...she had a fetish for rubber bands, so I wrapped her present in elastics and gave it to her...she unwrapped it, so I re-wrapped the empty box again and sprayed it with a fixative so it would stay...it didn't last long, but it was cool to look at while it lasted."
TN: "Were there people in your early life that encouraged you to pursue art?"
Cece: "As a child, and throughout my teen years, my mother and step-father were always encouraging me to draw or paint. In high school, I had the support of my entire immediate family and friends, not to mention my father, who bought me my first tattoo equipment."
TN: "Were you exposed to tattoos as an art form as a kid?"
Cece: "I can't say that I remember being exposed to tattooing as a kid, but rather in ninth grade, when some older students I hung around with got their first tattoos&I was instantly hooked when I saw the finished products, and started designing my own future tattoos and reading skin art magazines whenever I could find them."
TN: "How did this early interest become a career?"
Cece: "I got tattooed for the first time when I was sixteen years old, and the second the needle hit me, I knew that I wanted to do this. So with the help of the guy who first tattooed me (a friend of a friend), I started the pursuit with every ounce of my being&one of the few moments of clarity I have experienced in my life."
TN: "From the beginnings of your career as a tattoo artist, what other tattoo artists influenced you?"
Cece: "My favorites, and biggest influences, have always been the best of the best in the tattoo industry&Guy Aitchison, Jon Clue, Aaron Cain, Marcus Pacheco, Bugs, Little Vinnie, Jack Rudy, Brian Everette, Paul Booth, Jonathon Shaw, Leo Zueletta, Don Ed Hardy, and Sailor Jerry Collins, not to mention of course, everyone I have ever worked with in any capacity, those who have actually helped to guide me along my way, teaching me what to do and not do through their influential examples."
TN: "Can you talk a little bit about exactly what about a few of these you have synthesized into your own style?"
Cece: "textures, usage of color, dimensionality, layers, incorporating backgrounds. I rely heavily on what I've seen in the past ten years, but I don't think I do anything the way someone else does it. I don't want to do it like I've seen it, I want to learn from example, and not regurgitate, rather re-interpret a bit different, maybe even a bit better."
TN: "Starting out, what did you find most challenging?"
Cece: "Everything was challenging when I was starting out, as I am a mostly self-taught tattooer. I had all these questions and difficulties, but no one to turn to. Through being tattooed, perseverance, and lots of practice on fruits, vegetables, and willing friends, here I am today, still learning and still growing."
TN: "How did you learn your techniques?"
Cece: "Experimentations on willing participants is the only way to learn for someone who doesn't have a mentor. I have always regarded myself as someone who pushes the envelope with tattooing, and sometimes that has gotten me in trouble, but I try and try again, as I always have, until get it right or figure out a better way to do things."
TN: "What are some other ways that you have pushed the envelope in the past?"
Cece: "I guess by working skin to it's absolute limit in a single session, experimenting with values and gradations of the shadows in a piece, working on a single tattoo for 12 hours straight, finding new ways to mesh styles of art, tuning my machines to allow for several passes in one small area, and being as obsessive compulsive about every aspect of a tattoo and the tattooing process as possible."
TN: "If you could tell your "starting out self" one thing you've learned, what would it be?"
Cece: "I would tell myself to draw more often, push farther, experiment more, and always remember that perfection is a direction, not a destination-which is basically the same thing I tell myself these days. Some mantras never lose their meaning."
TN: "What type of work do you now find the most rewarding?"
br>Cece: "Reworking or covering up existing work is probably the most rewarding aspect of my job. There is something wonderful about taking something that is sub-par to the wearer or the viewers and turning it into a piece that is beautiful and satisfying. Making people feel better about themselves, or at least their tattoos, is one of the best feelings in the world for me."
TN: "What type is the most challenging?"
Cece: "Duplicating photographs or famous pieces of art is probably the most challenging thing for me to do, but it may be second to a really difficult cover-up."
TN: "Do you have a style in which you prefer to work?"
Cece: "I prefer working mostly in bright color, on a larger scale, incorporating body flow and aesthetics into the piece to achieve lots of layers and dimensionality."
TN: "What are the elements that really get you psyched to do a particular piece?"
Cece: "Odd subject matter, the incorporation of different styles of art, and freedom to add my own influence and styles really helps to get me interested in tattooing someone, although, no matter what it is that I am doing, I put every effort into producing the best piece I can, because you never know what tattoo might be your last."
TN: "Your last tattoo, or the clients?"
Cece: "My last tattoo. You never know when you could expire, lose a limb, get blinded, lose a job, or just get tired of tattooing and give it up...not like that's likely, but you never can tell, life is lived in moments, I try to make each one count."
TN: "Where in your life do you get your artistic inspiration?"
Cece: "I can't say that I rely on any one thing to inspire me&I depend heavily on my wife and her interpretation of my art, my co-workers sometimes have a lot of influence on the final product, the world and all the beautiful colors around me do quite a bit for what I put in the skin, and of course the utter chaos that is constantly revolving inside my head has everything to do with what comes out of me."
TN: "Other than tattooing, what other art mediums interest you now, and why?"
Cece: "Currently, I am mostly interested in painting with oils because I believe that what I learn on canvas and what I learn on skin is entirely interchangeable and moldable to both mediums. Unfortunately, there is just not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do&my life pretty much revolves around tattooing, and until I get totally burnt out on it, that's where I'll be."
TN: "What ways do you try to avoid that burnout in your life now?"
Cece: "Ha! That's funny. I keep on trucking along, doing what I have to do at work because I love it, taking care of my home life because I love my wife and the world we've built together, and fitting in all the errands in between. Sure, this is everyone's life, I realize that, but when you love what you do for a living, it's hard to say no. Most of my friends and family are on a waiting list a mile long, wanting to get tattooed by me, and they'll continue to wait, until I figure out how to balance work, life, home, and time for myself. There is just not enough time, but I'll try to get it all together, accomplish my "to do" list, and create art, live this life, and try to leave my mark in as many mediums as possible."
TN: "Your site includes a mention of just about every person in addition to the tattoo that they are wearing. Do you intentionally try to capture a bit of the wearer in each design?"
Cece: "I absolutely try to capture a piece of the wearer in every piece that I do, it's the only way to ensure that my clients will be happy with their tattoos for the rest of their lives.
TN: "Can you talk a little bit about how and why?"
Cece: "Capturing a bit of my client in their piece is all about the initial consultation, if they are cool, and they open up a bit, getting more information about who they are and what they really want to wear is the best way to figure out a piece. I'll spend as much time with someone as I need to, in hopes of giving them something that they'll always be happy to see in the mirror.
TN: "Your portfolio includes some designs that some people might find controversial, what is your philosophy regarding client's requests? Is there anything you would refuse to tattoo?"
Cece: "If a client has controversial opinion or idea, I try to counsel them on the social ramifications if applicable, but generally I'll embrace doing something different or thought provoking, especially if the client has mature, strong, and secure beliefs. I won't do anything though that is racially motivated, hateful, or gang related. Good karma is one of the few things I truly believe in."
TN: "What advice would you give someone considering getting their first tattoo?"
Cece: "Look at artist portfolios, find someone who's art you are attracted to, don't just get tattooed to get tattooed, and make sure that you are comfortable with the person who is applying something that will be there forever. It seems to me that customers just don't care who tattoos them these days, they'll take whoever, whenever, as long as their getting their tattoo right now. This is not a process to be taken lightly; permanence is a heavy subject, so please, be informed, make sure that the environment is clean and safe, and choose a tattooer that will execute what you want how you want it. There is such incredible talent out there in the tattooed world right now, there is just no excuse for mediocrity."
TN: "What's the best thing about being a tattoo artist?"
Cece: "Permanence and trust are absolutely the best things about tattoos, being tattooed, and giving tattoos. You just can't negate the connection a tattooer and client can have, and I believe it to be the most important and rewarding part of my job."
TN: "Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and TattooNOW readers, this was great Gabriel, best of luck!"