Raised on a diet of gang culture, FUZI spent his youth in the Parisian train yards of the 1980s, laying the foundations for his wild start in the graffiti scene. Now as an accomplished graffiti and tattoo artist, with two published books, a clothing line, and gallery work under his belt, FUZI’s ‘Ignorant Style’ is iconic. One of the founders of the UV (ULTRA VIOLENT) crew, FUZI’s volatile upbringing gave him the bold assertiveness that dominates his work. We had a chat him about violence in Paris, the transition from graffiti writer to tattoo artist, and the roots of his distinctive style.
How did you get into graffiti?
In the end of the 1980s, I lived with my father in an apartment just 100 meters from the train yards. It was my playground before I understood anything about writing. I went there just to chill in trains, hide under wagons, and play in the yards. Naturally, I saw the names on the seats and all over, and I tried to do the same, to become a legend like these names.
TPK are known for their wild ways. what was the crew like back in the ’90s?
We created UV (ULTRA VIOLENT) with close friends in my neighbourhood. We came from the suburbs of Paris, and we would go to Paris to conquer, with tags, graffiti, but also to shoplift or rob people. TPK crew were our friends, we trusted the crew because we had the same ways. Our attitude was a mix of gang culture and graffiti.
Can you describe an average day for you guys?
There were priorities—rob food, and paint and shit to make money—but after that, painting trains or subways was the goal. We travelled all over the city to tag in the street, inside subway cars, jumping on the railway to paint the outside of the cars, making a big piece in yards, taking photos and the rest of the day was just chilling in the streets, drinking, laughing, smoking weed… and finding other writers to punish.
What does graffiti mean to you?
Graffiti was the key to open my mind about my art potential. I felt it in me, but my way of life didn’t help me to develop my artistic side. Graffiti is a perfect, free activity—rough, illegal and creative—exactly what I wanted at this period.
You’re known for your “ignorant style.” How would you explain this to someone new?
Ignorant Style was born when my crew and I controlled Paris trains in the middle of the ’90s. We crossed out a lot of people, and used different nicknames to elude the police. It was a really free and wild expression and I created letters and style without traditional graffiti rules. People didn’t understand this way and thought I was an ignorant person, a toy, but we were everywhere on trains, subways, streets, and I know a lot of different graffiti styles. Ignorant Style was about making something different and letting jealous people speak about me. I have adopted the insult, “FUZI is ignorant,” for myself. OK, I have got an ignorant style, and I will rob you, beat you and paint more than you. For me, Ignorant Style was more a state of mind—used now by a lot of writers—it’s about not giving a fuck about others and creating without rules and constraints.
How did you get into tattooing? Tell me about the transition from graffiti writer to tattoo artist.
When everyday life pushed me to slow real vandal writing, I compensated by finding other ways to express myself. I had no idea how to use a brush, a canvas, or a tattoo machine, because I had used only markers and spraycans before. I started by practicing by myself on canvas, and on my skin, and I found my way.
Are you all self-taught?
Totally. I thought for a long time that if a person showed me how I must do it, I’ll lose my fresh style, my authenticity.
You do your tattoo work in unusual places; can you tell me about these places and why you do it?
I have always hated tattoo shops. I saw white rock-and-roll guys with leather and long hair, dragon and skull tattoos—I listened to hip hop and painted subways; their culture was not my culture. I wanted to tattoo like me. In the beginning, I tattooed in apartments, and all places where there are customers—parties, streets, halls, etc. When I began to show my art in exhibitions, I naturally felt it would be nice to show this part of my art, so I inked my art on people during my exhibitions. I felt the act of tattooing is as important as the design on the skin. This is a performance, for me and for the ‘customer’, I like to transport this moment in other places, to attract people with the act, not only the design. The places I tattoo are often linked with my graffiti life – I like to tattoo in hidden and underground places like tunnels, yards or rooftops.
Your tattoos are direct and simple and they maintain a sense of raw naivety in the shaky black lines and clean text. What’s the reason that you don’t use any colour or more detail?
My flash tattoos are the continuity of my drawings, my graffiti sketches. I used cartoons and punch lines in my graffiti. I wrote with direct lines, throwups, simple letters. All of this is kept in my style of tattoos. Black is my way because it is strong, there can be no mistakes, there is one black line and a big punch line. And this is a part of my attitude, direct and rough.
Is there certain imagery that you prefer to use?
I use eternal human themes—violence, love, sex—and mix it with my background of street life, graffiti and gang culture. But there is a second degree in a lot of my designs, jokes, references. I’m not here to tattoo gangsters or something like that, it’s art and it’s not so serious, it’s only for life.
Tell me about your favourite tattoo that you’ve done.
I don’t know, the last tattoo is often the best. But I know I have favourite place – when I tattooed a friend in a subway tunnel, I unplugged the neon and used the electricity for my machine. He got inked just one meter from a running subway.
You’ve published two books, exhibited work in galleries, started the Ignorant People clothing line, and just recently you debuted in NYC at The Hole Shop with people lining up for you to leave your FUZI mark on their skin. Is your attitude the same as when you were a young boy starting out in the Parisian train yards?
It’s not the same game, different for sure, but it’s with the same sincerity. You can’t say you are the same at 15 years old and at 37. But I have kept the same wild style in me to push me to be ‘free’ in my life and in my art.
Who are your clients?
Graphic designers, writers, top models, artists, drug dealers, hipsters, actors, athletes, etc. My clients are all different but I think they all share a common point, they are searching for something ‘different’ and real.
When someone comes to you for a tattoo, do they usually have their own idea of what they want, or do you just create something yourself?
I propose them to check my books, I have got thousands of original designs with different themes. All my tattoos are unique, and I only make the design one time, it’s a part of my art on your skin. I can also create something for you, special, if you have got a precise idea or something in your mind. But I must make it with my style, there is no other choice. People come to me to get an Ignorant Style tattoo by FUZI; that is what is important.
What inspires you?
My everyday life and my background.
People often talk about the importance of being careful with what you ink into your skin because of the permanence of tattoos. What do you think of this?
My girlfriend told me it’s “seulement pour la vie” (“only for life”).
What’s next for you?
A big exhibition of my canvases in the U.S. soon, a tattoo tour in Asia, a new book of my photography, developing my brand Ignorant People, and continuing to create. Check the news section of my website for details.
Head to FUZI’s website to see more of his work.