Dark Trash Realism is the term Anrijs Straume uses to describe his style, because – as he tells us in this interview – he likes his work to have a dark atmosphere which seems “lived in” and dirty – trash – and that recalls the images of old black and white photographs. We met him in Liverpool, where we had a long chat about everything from veganism to the morality of being a tattooist.
The full interview by Margherita B. is published on Tattoo Life magazine (November/December 2019 issue).
Hi Anrijs, I’d like to start by asking you about your style. It’s dark, it’s horror, and there’s some lettering and a nod to Surrealism. How do you usually describe it?
Yes, it’s something between everything you said; I call it Dark Trash Realism. Dark, because there is more of a dark atmospheric feel in the designs, it’s not simply horror style. Trash, because I like to do work that is messy, sketchy, and dirty. Realism, because for most of my works I use photo references, so it’s a black&grey realism. I came up with this style about five years ago. I was learning new techniques, more black&grey work with higher contrast, and was experimenting with a new approach to my designs and trying new things: a mix of a million things made something like that. And I realised I had never seen anyone doing this kind of mix together. I fell in love with the way I could see that feeling I was looking for in my artwork, and that’s when something clicked and I continued to develop this style further. I started to see more often that many other artists were inspired by my work, and were starting to use some of my artwork motives/signatures for their tattoos and drawings. Customers and artists started to call it the “Anrijs style” and other weird names, so I wanted to name it myself. That way there would be a real name for that style.
I believe that anyone, like you, who wants to develop this kind of tattoo genre needs to have a passion for a specific film, literary, and maybe music genre. Could you elaborate on that idea a bit? What are your passions and interests?
Yes, horror movies and music have always been a huge inspiration for me. I’ve always been a huge fan of horror art., and I love ghost stories, horror films, drama, atmospheric dark metal music and photography. My main passion is art, any kind of art. I see music, tattoos, body modifications, and movies all as art. All of this really interests me, and I wish I had much more time to create new and interesting things. One of my biggest passions and interests is the veganism lifestyle. Fully eliminating animal products from my diet has made me much stronger in mind and body! I’m happier, more compassionate, and this makes me feel “clean” in my mind and body. It has given me even more power to work on my art.
Every day I wake up and feel free and thankful that I’ve seen what’s wrong, have chosen the right path, and don’t make the same mistakes; respecting animals and treating them like our friends is really important to me, and I try to do my best to educate others on that, too.
I can’t believe that animal agriculture and the truth about it has been so hidden from our eyes that 99% of us never even question these things in our lifetime. I’ve joined a lot of cool projects to work harder on this issue and create a little more awareness out there.
From a technical standpoint, how did you learn how to do tattoos, and how have you developed your style technically?
I started tattooing from home without any guidance and knowledge, no books, internet or anything else. So I would say everything was self-taught. I had a couple of friends who were tattooing from home too, who helped me a little with some advices and tips; later on I got an apprentice/helper position in a UK studio. I don’t think I learned much about tattooing, there. It was more a studio job, I worked a lot on drawings which also helped me with tattooing. I watched some tattooing DVDs, which also helped. I’ve traveled around Great Britain and worked in a few studios, but I’ve never worked with any realism artists. Most of the techniques I know I learned just by trying things out myself. A lot of experience over the years with street shop tattoos slowly helped me to develop my own precise style; much of what I do and the way I work are different from what many other artists do: I’ve created my own approach to tattoos.
Is drawing an essential part of every piece you make? I see that you add some of your own stylistic details to the main characters. And could you tell us what specifically distinguishes a normal dark horror tattoo from a dark horror tattoo by Anrijs?
I try not to do a lot horror work, but I try to create stories and atmospheres in my designs; it’s more similar, in a way, to how it would be with art photography or music. I try to put some of that feeling in my tattoos. For example, horror work would be: skulls, graveyards, ravens or zombies, vampires and creatures. I try to give a demon feel to my characters – not like a horror movie, but more like how it would be in a dark dimension. I try not to use a lot of gory elements, but eerie details that will make the character different from how it would normally be: I’ll add extra eyes, for example, or other surrealistic details that give a mutation effect. Adding lettering to the whole also helps to tell the story.
Is there anything that you really love to tattoo?
I have a lot of concepts in my mind about what I would love to do, too many to list here. I love to do most of the work I do: I like to do band tattoos, as music has always been the biggest inspiration for me as a tattooer. And it’s always awesome to meet people who love music so much they are willing to get it tattooed.
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Follow Anrijs on Instagram: @anrijstraume