It’s a hot day in September when I’m making my way up to the Queen of Hearts Tattoos in Lisbon. Since it’s located on the steep hills of the Bairo Alto district, my calves are getting a good workout. (Plus I had a bit too much to drink the day before, so let’s just say I’m not in tip-top shape to do involuntary mountain climbers in 29°C heat). I had planned to visit Lisbon for our friends’ wedding, and my over-enthusiastic self thought “Let’s cram an interview or two in this already tight schedule!” Great thinking, Jan. Not so great planning, however.
At 2PM, Rua da Rosa, the epicenter of Lisbon nightlife if you will, is not that crowded at all. The streets wind their way upward, tangling around the heart of Lisbon like a paved cobblestone snake. I go into the shop and ask for Kevin. Kevin Breno. I came across his Instagram simply by searching for tags like #tattoolisbon and was thoroughly impressed by what I saw. (Yeah, I know, kids. Journalism is dead.) His non-conformist realistic style and intense use of silvers and whites caught my eye immediately when I did my prep. But back to the shop: at the counter, I’m told to go all the way to the back. I find Kevin working on a realistic Poseidon armpiece. His presence in the room demands your attention: he’s broad-shouldered, wearing a buttoned down lumberjack shirt with black, grey and silver checkers. ”Did he dress in his signature colors or is it just me?”, I wonder. In the somewhat small arched studio space, he wraps up his client’s tattoo for a short break with me. We head down the road to a local coffee shop. “Man, it’s way too hot. I can’t stand this heat! It was over 40°C in summer!”, Kevin says as beads of sweat trickle down his neck. Forty degrees? I look at him incredulously as we take our seats, and we start where it makes most sense: the beginning.
“YOU HAVE TO BE A SLAVE TO YOUR PASSION TODAY SO YOU CAN BE FREE TOMORROW”
During our talk, it becomes clear pretty soon: Kevin Breno is full of contradictions. In a good way. He’s a hard worker, but with a kind soul. He speaks passionately, but he never comes across as someone with an inflated ego. He’s talented, yet stresses he’s still learning every day. His career in tattooing started almost/only four years ago, and he’s already accomplished quite a lot.
“It all started way back. I had been drawing and painting for quite some time. Mostly photorealistic and realistic stuff, the same as what I do now with my tattoos. I always had a passion for the arts, but I was stuck in an office job; I felt ‘castrated’ by the corporate world. After some time I asked to work part-time: I spent half my time at the office, and the other half learning how to do tattoos. But even then, it was no good. It gave me a… (thinks) ‘split personality’, you know? A friend of mine, a tattoo artist, kept pushing me to do it full-time. I was now in the phase of really trying tattoos for real…on myself. I have to admit, it wasn’t the best possible way to learn the craft: I didn’t have an apprenticeship in a shop or someone to teach me ‘hands-on’. I just got a machine, sat down, tried it on myself and evaluated everything: how it looked on the skin, the way the tattoo healed, what worked best,… But I still stand by my decision: I’m a lot happier now, doing what I love. I draw and tattoo every day, and to get better, that’s what it takes: passion and dedication. You have to be a slave to your passion today so you can be free tomorrow.”
Immediately I think to myself “this is SO going to be a quote I’m going to use as a title in this piece!” And there you have it. I continue by asking Kevin about how he interprets his own style.
“Well…(thinks) it’s somewhere between realism and photorealism. I like to use whites and silvers because you can make the tattoos look like you can actually grab them off of someone’s arm. I like that, the ‘3D effect’”…”What’s also important, is that everyone perceives the same reality differently. I never ever copy anyone’s work. Of course you can be inspired by a style or an artist, that’s OK. (points at a vase with flowers on our coffee table) Do you see those flowers? I see them in a certain light, in this specific composition. But you, from your point of view, see something different, don’t you? But they definitely are the same flowers. We are observing the same reality with a different outcome, and THAT’s where art becomes really interesting.”
And right then and there, you know you are talking to someone who is as intelligent as he is passionate about his art. But no rest for the interviewer: Kevin continues his story.
“At the moment, I’m further developing my skills in a style that I’m comfortable with. I want to try more color-work later on, but for now I’m focused on this style. I also only take bookings two or three months in advance, because who knows how my style or taste will develop over the next couple of months?”
JANDERLUST FACT: it’s a big ‘no-no’ to simply copy or mimic another artist’s work, especially in the tattoo industry. It’s almost as bad as eating the last of the French fries in the basket without asking, just to give you an idea.
“EVERYBODY WANTS TO BE IN LISBON”
A quick Facebook search reveals that Kevin doesn’t live in Lisbon proper but in Oeiras, some thirty minutes out of town. However: his love for this city is heart-felt.
“I love Lisbon. I’ve been on guest spots, conventions or just to relax in Iceland, Spain, Germany, Russia,… but nothing matches up to this city. It’s very diverse, has a rich art scene and there’s something for everyone. You want to do a pub crawl? Check! You want to go to a club? We’ve got a street full of them! Seriously: everybody wants to be in Lisbon.”…”One of my favorite places is a rooftop bar called PARK. I like to have a drink and talk a lot with my friends, just like we’re doing now. You have a great view of the sunset up there, it’s great. You should go sometime!”
Even though I haven’t been myself, fellow wedding travelers did go and can confirm: PARK is legit…And to Kevin: thanks again for giving me all those quotes. Now at least I don’t have to come up with witty titles.
Kevin currently works at Queen of Hearts Tattoos in Lisbon, Portugal (Rua da Rosa 75)
Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org
Kevin is endorsed by CHEYENNE and SKIN2SKIN