Artem Kumbula was first described to me via text as “this really cool-looking kid from St. Petersburg who does really dope tattoos,” and I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more to-the-point description. Lanky, blonde and covered in ink (including the word “Globalization” across his throat), he would look right at home on a Gosha Rubchinskiy runway.
But Kumbula is hardly another “cool” could-be-model giving his friends shitty tattoos. At just 20, the artist has developed an aesthetic all his own. A mash-up of rap influences, film noir and, yes, modern Internet culture, his work is moody, clever and so of-the-moment it borders on satire. My friend was right; this kid does really dope tattoos.
So how does one go about getting a piece from Kumbula? You’ll have to find him first. Though his home base is his apartment in St. Petersburg (he isn’t big on actual tattoo shops), he’s often traveling Europe, working out of various underground spaces a few days at a time (he’s best tracked via Instagram). Lucky for me, we crossed paths through mutual friends in Stockholm, over an evening of light-to-medium debauchery. Two days later I found myself in a recording studio listening to Russian gangster rap and getting this:
Afterwards I tried to find out just how a 20-year-old from St. Petersburg winds up traveling Europe giving dope tattoos (Disclaimer: Kumbula warns that his English isn’t great but in reality it’s much better than he thinks it is).
How did you learn to tattoo?
I taught myself. I was studying at University and figured I’d rather be doing something creative, so I started making some designs, with my own vision, and then I just started doing tattoos.
But somebody must have taught you something about tattooing. How did you learn?
I was watching another artist and just looking at videos on the Internet. Then I went out and bought all the stuff and started trying things out on myself and my friends. I just got better and better and better over time.
What was the first tattoo you ever got?
It was a hand-poked moon on my leg. It’s a shitty tattoo [Laughs].
How did you wind up working out of this space in Stockholm?
I met Nils [Lundberg, a producer from Stockholm] in Helsinki a few months ago. It was Spring? Or… what comes before Winter.
Fall. Or autumn.
[Laughs] So it was autumn. I was working in Helsinki at my friend’s studio and Nils came in to get a tattoo. Then he invited me to a show he was doing in Helsinki with the Swedish rappers Silvana Imam and Michel Dida and we spoke about how I need to come to Stockholm, so here I am. I chose this place because it’s really underground – I think it’s more interesting to work in a music studio than a regular tattoo studio.
So where do you work back in St. Petersburg?
I work out of my house – I made a home studio.
You have such a specific aesthetic – how would you describe it?
I like noir and neon visuals, and I listen to a lot of rap, so I draw a lot from there. I also use a lot of modern Internet aesthetics, since everyone in the world is always on their gadgets.
Would you say there’s anything inherently Russian about your work?
Yes. I’ve taken something things from Russian prison tattoos – a while ago I used to draw a lot of designs from that, but over time it’s transformed into something new.
What’s your impression of Stockholm?
It’s a beautiful city. I like the aesthetic of the people, all in black. It’s easy on the eyes. And they have an interesting underground.
Do you have any grand plans or do you just want to keep traveling around and tattooing?
I plan to do a gallery show, maybe in Stockholm, and to travel to more cities and see more people. Maybe far in the future I’ll go to the States… if it’s possible.
Tell me a bit about your own tattoos. Do you plan them out or just sort of wing it?
It’s never planned. If I see an interesting artist I always want to get a piece from him. It’s like my own gallery on myself. I always trust the artist and let him do something interesting.
And I assume that’s the way you prefer to work as well – with that kind of freedom.
Yes. If you trust me, I’ll do it best on my own.
What do your parents think of what you do?
I don’t have a father, but I have a mother and she really likes my stuff – she’s a very modern woman for Russia. She directs and runs a shop in a little town.
That’s nice. My parents hate my tattoos.
[Laughs] I think it always hurts our parents. But I don’t usually ask permission from anyone before I do something.