The tattoo industry isn’t exactly known for being open-minded—but Charline Bataille doesn’t really care. Whether she’s being judged for not having had a traditional apprenticeship or for her controversial Vice vid, the Montreal-based artist continues inking bright pieces that celebrate feminism and queer identity. Using what she calls “wonky lines” and vivid colors, Bataille crafts outspoken tats reading “Fuck The Patriarchy” and “Femme Isn’t Frail.” Even her less explicit images show curvy women and non-binary characters cuddling poodles while covered in hair, or slicing off the heads of imposing tigers. And that’s not the only thing that separates her work. Unlike a lot of artists who’re more focused on their own agenda, Bataille urges a collaborative environment, where the customer has an equal say on what will permanently go on their body. Because for her, tattoos are more than just pretty decoration—they’re an unapologetic badge for the “queer and weird.”
BULLETT caught up with the artist to talk about the industry and “angry fat femmes.”
Name: Charline Bataille
Favorite Song To Tattoo To: R&B throwbacks are a universal crowd pleaser
Your Most Embarrassing Tattoo: My ex’s initials—I’m a romantic
Favorite Thing To Tattoo: Scandalous queer stuff & angry fat femmes!
Next Tattoo: I can’t wait to get tattooed by @marshobrecker
How’d you start tattooing?
Like many other tattoo artists, I started tattooing at home on myself. Then I was in a Vice video, and I said something like, ‘Oh I started tattooing myself at home, I taught myself, blah blah blah.’ But that’s something that’s really not okay in the tattoo industry—educating yourself.
I hear that a lot from artists, especially female tattoo artists.
Right, I am a woman, and I am self-taught. And in the video, I said that the tattoo industry had a lot of issues with misogyny and racism. Oh my god! The response was intense—really intense. Since that happened, I really try not to read anything about myself or any Instagram comments. But I know there are a lot of posts about the ‘controversial Charline Bataille,’ and what I represents, because I didn’t do an apprenticeship and worked at home for a long time. This is obviously not a new thing—a lot of people who don’t have access to an apprenticeship do this. But because of the internet, people are teaching themselves and working from home more and more.
Why did you decide to start working from home?
I taught myself at home because I wanted tattoos, and tattoo shops just weren’t accessible, money-wise. Also, environment-wise—I never really felt comfortable around tattoo shops and the ambiance the have. So, I did some tattoos on myself, and then on some friends, and I ended up loving it so much that now I’m doing it professionally.
Why do you think there’s such a hierarchy when it comes to gender and experience?
There are two ways to answer that. I could like tell you those people’s reasoning, which is that apprenticeship is a big tradition in Western tattooing—they use words like ‘right of passage’ or ‘trial by fire.’ It’s something that’s important because there’s obviously the issue of safety and the industry has to be really careful about hygiene, because it already has a bad rap. But I think the other reason really has to do with gate-keeping, and the industry can be really close-minded aesthetically. You know how there’s a so-called ‘good body?’ The good body is supposed to be thin and white. And if you’re a bit different, you’re ugly. I think it’s the same with tattooing. If the lines aren’t straight, then it’s a bad tattoo. But that’s not actually true. There’s room for all designs and there are a million different people who are going to like a million different things.
Your work is super colorful, and you also include a lot of queer and feminist imagery. Do you think that’s why some people in the industry have considered your work ‘problematic?’
My work just doesn’t fit in with what traditionalists think is right, or okay. But I’m not trying for it to be bold or ‘bold with hold,’ or whatever they call it. It’s different—it’s wonky lines and colors that may be patchy. It looks a lot like my drawings and my paintings—it’s imperfect.
But that’s what I like about tattoos—how different they can all be. I have a bunch and none of them are in a traditional style. But every time I go into tattoo shops, male artists are always trying to convince me to go bigger, or put their own spin on the design. And it’s frustrating because it’s my body.
Isn’t that so weird? It’s like they don’t care that much about people’s agency—they care more about what their drawing is going to look like. And they don’t trust people to know what they want. After the Vice video catastrophe, I was in a Uber and I started sharing my problems with my driver. He showed me a tattoo on his arm and asked, ‘Do you like this?’ I told him, ‘Of course I do,’ and he told me that he designed it, but when he went to a bunch of different shops and asked for it, no one would give it to him. They all said, ‘Oh that’s not going to work, your skin is too dark, the lines are too fine.’ He finally found someone who was going to do it, and he loves it! Who are those other people deciding it’s not going to be good? It’s arbitrary, it’s weird, and it’s just holding onto an irrelevant status quo.
The industry feels like it has a really ingrained idea of what’s right and what’s not.
That’s how I feel. Obviously, when I said that there was misogyny in the tattoo industry, the response was, ‘You’re a fucking cunt.’ But I’ve been in shops where guys are tattooing me, talking to each other about women horribly. And there are other ways—like how fine line tattoos aren’t seen as good. That’s because those are more likely to be on a woman. Then you have those tattoo magazines that either have a male tattoo artists, or a ‘sexy’ tattooed woman. They all say it’s just tradition, but you’re never going to see a naked tattooed guy on a wall.
How do you translate what you do when you’re painting into your tattoos?
It actually took some time for me to figure that out that I could just do my work as tattoos. At first, I was trying to do normal black tattoos, and it didn’t work—I didn’t like it. But when I tried to just tattoo how I draw, it changed everything. It’s really fun, and it’s been an amazing experience to tattoo things that are deemed queer or weird, but make the people who wear them feel proud to be queer and weird.
Is your approach across mediums the same?
I brainstorm a lot when it comes to tattoos, but I talk it out and build it with the person, because it’s their skin. So I really have to think about someone other than myself. When I paint, it’s really just about my feelings. When I do a tattoo, it’s a collaboration.
What do you think you get out tattooing, you don’t get out of the other mediums?
I struggle with my relationship to my body a lot because of what may be personal trauma, or just a negative body image. But I’m extremely sensitive to catcalling on the street, and I feel uncomfortable when I’m made to feel like I’m a public object that men can stare at—it makes me feel out of control of my body, and I hate it. So tattooing myself and having a lot of tattoos helps me reappropriate my body, my skin and my control of it—and I love that it makes me unappealing, or look weird and less attractive to regular men. It’s similar to what I do with clothing. But tattooing is more intense—it’s a type of commitment to yourself.
Do you think tattoos are political, even if they aren’t explicitly making a political statement?
I think everything is political—my tattoos are for sure, because they’re crooked and they’re weird, and every time I tattoo someone, we sit together and draw together. I’m not the type of artist who says, ‘This is my drawing and whatever if you don’t like it’—I sit with every client and draw it with them, so it’s a collaboration every time.
So for you, it’s more about the experience—not just the tattoo.
It’s all of it. The experience is so important because it can change the meaning of the work. If you get something that’s important to you, but the artist who did it was shitty—then the tattoo will always feel shitty. And that sucks.
What do you want people to take away from your work?
Hopefully they love it. I want them to feel connected to their bodies, and I always listen to why they get the tattoo and what they need out of it. I’m a very sensitive person, and I simply try to be there for people who trust me enough to let me do something permanent on their body, and I want to make it an experience we both share.