Here is one thing that Kanye West, Adam Lambert and Rick Owens have in common: their tattoo artist. All three men have been inked at least once by Maxime Buchi, who runs tattoo studio Sang Bleu in London and Zurich.
The avuncular multihyphenate, however, is not your average tattoo artist. While his six-feet-plus frame fully covered in ink does cut a menacing figure, his placid demeanour recalls the quiet confidence of a design maverick, and that is exactly what he really is. Schooled in graphic design and typography, his passion for body art arose midway through his career, and instinctively, Buchi sought out the best master tattooist under whom he could apprentice—Filip Leu—and the rest is history. His work today places him at the crossroads of sociology and art, so thanks mainly to social media, Buchi and other next‑gen tattoo artists have managed to refine their art in ways never before possible.
A quick look at your Instagram account tells us that you use geometric shapes a lot in your work. What draws you to such designs?
Maxime Buchi: As a kid I was always obsessed with science and science fiction. I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I also remember looking at equations, sheets of paper with formulae on them, and thinking how beautiful they are. One of my uncles is an architect and I also remember looking at his architectural plans thinking they’re beautiful. So I’ve always liked lines and things that are abstract. When I started tattooing, I became aware of the so-called sacred geometry. You find it in alchemy, Buddhism, Islamic iconography… it’s universal. I became aware of the universality of geometry in general. Since it’s something I’ve always found attractive, I applied it to tattooing, and it worked pretty well. It seems to be a valid expression in tattooing and something I’ve come to specialise in.
How did you get into tattooing as a profession?
MB: I started getting tattooed in my early 20s, but it was only in my late 20s that I started apprenticing. I became a tattooist in my early 30s. Before that I was in graphic design and art direction
We’re curious: Who does your own tattooing?
MB: Two people. The first person who tattooed me was also my master, Filip Leu; he taught me everything. The other, also one of my main inspirations, is Thomas Hooper. Basically my back is covered by Filip and my front is all Thomas Hooper—more or less—with a few souvenirs from other people
These days, tattooing has become less of a delinquent subculture and more of an art form albeit still a subversive or irreverent one. Do you agree?
MB: Tattooing is becoming more visible to the mainstream and designs are becoming cool, almost normalised. But now there’s a new phase, in my opinion, that tattooing has become appropriated as an activity. Tattooing itself as a practice has transitioned from a subculture to a mainstream culture, and has become almost gentrified. There are more tattooists coming from an art background rather than the typical non-educated background. This is a major switch and this is probably why in the past five years we’ve started to see all these collaborations.
How would you describe your experience working with Hublot on the Big Bang Sang Bleu?
MB: It’s been amazing. The whole team has been nothing but keen to try and make any idea work. Their efficiency and open-mindedness made it by far the most pleasant collaboration experience I’ve had so far.
What do you think of Hublot’s Art of Fusion concept?
MB: I think Hublot opened the way to innovation for a whole generation of watch brands, and that it’s often overlooked in this respect. More than ever, innovation and creation, not only in the watch industry, but in general, is driven by collaboration and sharing. Hublot was a visionary company when it started and continues to be.
How did you arrive at the final design of the watch?
MB: It’s a shape that I constructed using the very structure and design of the Big Bang. I wanted to push it as much as I could, but without adding any new design elements and only expanding existing lines and structures. The font used is called Simplon Mono, designed by Emmanuel Rey, one of my partners at Swiss Typefaces, my type design company. It works perfectly here because it’s technical and systematic, but also subtle and sophisticated.
What’s the difference between a good tattooist and a great one?
MB: The same design can be amazing or very bad, depending on who it’s done on, how it’s placed, the size of it… A great tattooist is someone who thinks of a tattoo for a person—someone who’s able to see what the client needs and manages to find something right for him or her in a few minutes upon meeting the person. Of course, it has to do with the design but design is a means to an end; it’s a brick for a house. What counts is not the brick but the house. If you’re an aesthete, you create an extension, an enhancement of the person using your skills. That’s what great tattooing is.
What are some of the most unusual or interesting client requests you’ve had?
MB: I’d say 70 per cent of the tattoos I do are challenging and interesting. Even small tattoos can be very interesting, from weird or extreme stuff such as tattooing a face or a full-body suit on someone… tattooing celebrities while paparazzi are stalking you… That’s what’s amazing about tattooing, every day there’s something weird happening. You’re constantly confronted by incredible new things.