Lyon-based tattoo artist Matt Chaos has had a diverse creative career, working with musicians, clothing brands, and other companies as a graphic designer and illustrator. He picked up the tattoo machine in 2013, and in a few short years, has developed an incredible style that he calls “Astral Blaq Work.”
Matt’s art is characterized by dark and arcane imagery, such as animals, celestial bodies, and various demonic or undead beings. It is no surprise that he caught Scene360’s eye on the artist lineup for the 15th annual Art Tattoo Montreal Show. His bold use of black ink and choice of mysterious symbolism invited our questions in regards to his creative history, inspirations, and the atmosphere of his tattoo studio, Black Horns. Naturally, we also wanted to know more about this “PIZZACVLT” he and his friend started.
Matt graciously answered our questions in the following interview. Read on for his thoughtful words, and check out our exclusive photos of a spooky astral skeleton hand he completed on the Saturday of the convention.
Top: Matt Chaos hard at work at Art Tattoo Montreal.
Matt’s booth displayed examples of his eye-catching “Astral Blaq Work” style.
You have had a diverse artistic career, working in clothing, music, and as a graphic designer and illustrator. Tattooing is somewhat new to you. What attracted you to tattoo art in 2013?
Yes, I’ve worked in different things, always in a creative way. I never really had a crush on something for work actually, and after spending time as a graphic designer, I was tired of computers and wanted to be back drawing in a traditional way.
I am heavily tattooed, which made me want to [get into tattooing,] and it happened naturally. Then, late in 2013, I started to tattoo, and I discovered it’s what I want to do with my life.
Matt’s rapport with his clients is calm and friendly.
Next I want to welcome you to Montreal. Judging by your Instagram, you’ve done a lot of traveling this year. What has been your experience as a traveling tattoo artist?
I feel really honored to be here; it’s pretty nice to have this opportunity. The convention is so great—really [good] quality with so many amazing artists. I feel like a rookie being here [laughs]. But I feel so glad to have the chance to discover the world doing what I love to do. It’s my way of learning more about tattoos. I’m a curious person, and traveling is the best way for me to learn more about it. I just can’t stay stuck in the same place; it isn’t good for my creativity. [Traveling has given] me the opportunity to meet so many great people who have helped me. It’s a pleasure.
This tattoo of a skeleton hand holding an astral rose is taking shape.
Most tattoo artists I’ve talked to mention having a mentor who inspired them. Did you have a mentor while you were learning (perhaps someone at Golden Daggers Tattoo Studio)? If so, in what ways did they influence you?
Yes, I had a mentor: Rocky Darkroads at Golden Daggers. He said yes to me when I was trying to find an apprenticeship, [and] he helped me to learn the basics . . . It was the best experience I could have: a traditional apprenticeship in an American shop, surrounded by awesome artists. It was the best way learn.
They are really good guys [at Golden Daggers]. They gave me a lot of advice and are part of who I am now; they are the roots of everything I know, and I am really thankful to Rocky and the shop’s whole crew for everything they did for me.
While watching him work, it was clear that Matt is a dedicated and detail-focused artist.
You describe your work as “Astral Blaq Work.” What is the significance of astrology in your personal and artistic life?
Well, about the Astral Blaq Work: it happened because I am fascinated by the stars, the universe, and the moon phases. I’m always in my own mind—my own world—with my mind up in the stars. I try to bring that relationship [with the cosmos] into my work; the black [designs] I do are mixed with moons and stars. [. . .] My references are esoteric and mystical, so naturally the astral thing happened. It’s like bringing my personality and passion into my work.
This session lasted about three hours.
What is the most challenging tattoo you’ve ever done?
Every tattoo is a different challenge. I can’t think about the most challenging one, to be honest. Big pieces are more difficult, because they need more time, more concentration [in order] to stay there for hours in a row. But I don’t really do a lot of big pieces.
The spooky and beautiful final product.
Tell me about your studio, Black Horns. When did it open? What is the ambience like, and how is it different from other tattoo studios?
We opened Black Horns around two years ago in Lyon, France. It’s a pretty young shop, and there are three artists working there. We all do blackwork, but in different styles—Strange Dust, Subson’Ink, and me.
It’s not really different from other studios, but it’s our style. It is a quiet place to do our things . . . It isn’t about walk-ins; we work mostly by appointments. It is running pretty well. We receive a lot of artists from each part of the world, we learn from each other, we meet new people, [and] we create a good network of creative people who have pretty much the same interests.
This twisted snake tattoo was also created at Art Tattoo Montreal.
You founded “PIZZACVLT,” which is a dark and humorous clothing brand. Can you tell me how and why this side project was born?
Yes, PIZZACVLT started a few months ago. It started as a joke when a friend of mine asked me to do a script tattoo on his belly, and it was “pizza” but written like a black metal script.
It was a funny idea, and when I posted the picture people started to go crazy about the idea. It was not expected to have this success for just a funny tattoo. So we (my friend who asked for the tattoo) and I decided to [work together] and release [the design] as T-shirts to see how it did. We thought it was a funny idea, and things [went] really good with the T-shirts. Then it started to grow, and we decided to [work on it] as a brand and release more products. Now it’s a real part of my work.
A creepy witch hand, also completed as part of Matt’s full schedule at the convention.
Do you have any projects we can look forward to in the next year? Will you continue to do international guest spots?
No projects in particular, but I will start to split my time between France and England, and I will start [as a] resident artist at Occult Tattoo in Brighton during every first week of the month. I will definitely continue traveling for international guests spots as long as people continue inviting me for it [laughs]. Sometimes it’s exhausting, sometimes it’s stressful, but I definitely don’t want to stop it anytime soon.
Tattoo art © Matt Chaos Photos by Hayley Evans, © Scene360