More than just destruction and chaos

An interview with Marian Merl

Martin Merl’s tattoo parlour “Zur Stecherei” (“To the stinger”) looks inconspicuous from the outside with no reference to tattoos around. Only at a second glance is it evident. Similarly, Marian, the 31-year-old tattoo artist at “Zur Stecherei”, comes across as being introverted and unassuming. An event technician by trade, he has in the interim become one of Austria’s most creative tattoo artists. Eight years of tattooing in various parlours have shaped him and helped him to bring his artistic vision to his clients in his own parlour. The years practising have helped him to hone his craft. In contrast to his neat, precise and primarily black tattoos, are others which stand out with their wild energy. He calls these unconventional tattoos the “destroyalas”, a term he created from the combination of the words “destroy” and “mandala”, the latter being a diagram representing the cosmos symbolically. They reflect more than destruction and chaos. In a conversation with Marian Merl, he takes us through his tattoo art vision and deconstructs the apparent destruction.

You have on occasion tattooed minimalistic tattoos, one in particular of a landscape which is simple and neat. What is so special about it?

Purely from a technical point of view this kind of tattoo is very intricate. To draw a straight line on a not so straight body is a technical challenge. One can see each blur to the left or to the right, each mistake, which cannot be corrected. High-end tattoos are moving more in this direction. While drawing, one needs to pay attention to one’s breathing. When someone starts tattooing a line, they breathe in and breathe out very slowly. Just like a sharpshooter who holds his breath when taking aim, and only afterwards presses the trigger. With this form of tattoo there is no room for error. With a straight line one can see even a half a millimetre of error. The simpler the tattoo, the more difficult it is to create.

Is a good tattoo a minimalistic one?

No, not necessarily. In my opinion, for geometric tattoos or the “destroyalas” in fact, more can be better, in order to get that perfect look. This is definitely the case for the destroyalas.

What do you consider a “destroyala” to be?

Destroyalas are atypical tattoos. They consist of brush strokes, colour sprays, various planes or something similar to that. It’s only that they work against the human anatomy. Good ol’ fashion mandalas are a frequent and beloved motif. The destroyalas grew out of that style. In particular with the destroyalas, the combination of brush strokes and colour sprays work really well, and they need to be precise. This creates a cool feel of pure chaos.

Are tattoos art?

Tattooing starts as a service and can always turn into art. Most tattoo parlours provide a service. Personally, I have tried again and again to move away from the service aspect. It is clear that one pays for a service. But I think that what makes a difference is what the tattoo represents in and of itself. I try more and more to create works of art.

What does art represent to you?

Some would say that art is what lets itself be bought, because, fundamentally the art market determines what art is. This is a big question. I cannot really give you a clear answer to this.

When it comes to tattoos, what is of higher importance to you: the client’s wish or your creative drive?

It’s difficult to say. The drafting and the actual realisation of the tattoo are essential. Generally, clients have the basic concept in mind and they give me free range to execute it. We are somewhat different from normal tattoo parlours. I don’t do all tattoos. One can spend ten years doing fashion tattoos, such as, lettering, stars, infinity symbols, and so on, and make a living from that. But, I would rather have less money and do what seems right to me.

How do your tattoos come about?

Two days before the appointment, I begin to think about the tattoo. I search for reference materials in the internet or in books. The day before the appointment I do a sketch on paper, which is often not bigger than 5x15cm. This is generally sufficient for me to guarantee a good tattoo for my clients who know that they can trust me. I then sketch on the body and develop and adjust them.

Are tattoos unique pieces?

Of course.

Do you sign your tattoos?

There were a few clients who request that I sign the tattoos once they are done. Then again, when is a tattoo done? At best, it grows further.

Interview by Igor Eberhard