Ben Sledge 12th January 2018
“I think that there is a stage in life in which everyone is thinking about getting a tattoo, and this is what also makes me feel sometimes that we humans are in our natural state when we are tattooed.”
Chaim Machlev is relatively new to the tattooing game, at 37 he has only been tattooing for 6 years, but already he has built up a reputation as an interesting, innovative, and sought-after tattooist. He finds tattooing a unique and spiritual experience, due to the bonds of trust, pain, and satisfaction created during between artist and client during the process.
But for many years he hated tattoos, and had no interest in being any sort of an artist.
In my home country, tattooing is connected with drugs and crime, but there is a huge movement of tattooed people in Tel Aviv at the moment, which is really opening people’s eyes
“I never had any artistic background, never created art besides playing a guitar as a hobby, and definitely nothing to do with drawing or tattooing.
“In fact I was not attracted to tattoos until I started to think about getting one, and I can’t really explain why it happened.
“In my home country, tattooing is connected with drugs and crime, but there is a huge movement of tattooed people in Tel Aviv at the moment, which is really opening people’s eyes.”
Chaim’s lack of attraction to tattoos stemmed from being surrounded by a society that stigmatised them and stereotyped those who wore them, but he reached a point in his life where he wanted to understand why people chose to get them. The only way to truly find this out, in his eyes, was to get a tattoo himself.
[My first tattoo] was for me one of the strongest impacts of my life, as I found the procedure super spiritual and life-changing
“I got my first tattoo seven years ago by Avi Vanunu in Psycho studio in Tel Aviv and it was for me one of the strongest impacts of my life, as I found the procedure super spiritual and life-changing.
“When you get your first tattoo you no longer have those prejudices, you understand the beauty of deciding to change your body, and letting someone do it.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about tattoos. I started to see them in my dreams, every person that I saw, I thought about lines that goes through their body and how interesting it could be to actually be a tattooist who decides which lines flow better for an individual body, and dedicate your life to live the experience of changing people’s bodies as a routine.
“I felt like connected to some ancient subconscious that was living in me for many years. And I still get connected to that point whenever I hold my machines and get filled with a warm feeling inside.”
As someone who used to hold prejudices against tattoos and those who got them, Chaim took a very sudden U-turn. His own experiences, intended simply to see what getting a tattoo was like, had opened his eyes to a world of body art in a way that he had never seen before. The prejudices that societal pressure had emblazoned in his subconscious suddenly disappeared, and he embraced the world of tattoos with his newly opened mind.
I don’t take walk-ins, and I tattoo one person a day
Chaim moved from Tel Aviv to Berlin, and began tattooing punks who didn’t care that he had no training, portfolio, artistic background, or even what their tattoos actually looked like. Starting from nothing more than motivation and passion, Chaim honed his skills and began to develop his own ideas, and eventually began creating what he believes to be the most spiritual method of tattooing.
“I make my designs according to the body structure of my clients, I can’t ever make a sketch beforehand, because it could look pretty nice on the paper but wouldn’t fit their body.
“I don’t take walk-ins, and I tattoo one person a day. I think that it is impossible to tattoo more than one person a day, because I try to go through a spiritual experience together with the client, and create something positive out of the experience from the psychological aspect as well as from the creation aspect.
“The more open-minded the client, the more individual tattoo I can create. The creations that I feel the most comfortable with, and love the most, are the ones that I created on people that actually came without any idea of what they want to get, but with a strong will to get tattooed by me.
“I do a lot of freehand with my tattoo designs, most of the lines art design, and the process of designing is sometimes longer than the tattooing process itself. It is sometimes very hard to find the right lines that float through the body, they have to be the right size, the right place, and the right movement. Otherwise it is simply not working.
“I experiment on a daily basis, which is a bit risky when comes to a non-reversible form of art, but I guess that it is the only way to develop your own style as an artist, and create something individual daily.”
Chaim has built his ideas and methods into an incredible portfolio of tattoos, each one entirely unique and unrepeatable. The bond that he creates with his clients is also rare in the world of tattooing. With only one client a day, Chaim can focus entirely on them, in order to truly understand how his tattoo will fit around the person’s body, and mind. The resulting tattoo seems like a reflection of your inner self inked onto your skin, albeit in the form of patterns and waves.
It is very interesting how cold lines and dots can have life and unique behaviour
“I try always to balance my designs as nature does with its creations, when a design is too geometric it is often creates a cold feeling, the goal is to find the right balance within it. When I take a project I always have the feeling to create something that will look super cool from far away, but when you will come closer it will have a lot of dimensions in it and will stimulate the viewer’s eyes in the strongest way.
“[The tattoo] doesn’t have to be too complicated, it can simply be made from one line that flows through the entire body, and it is all a matter of personality and what the customer is like. How they move, how they talk, how they describe themselves, and how they want to be described.
“I really take the time to learn those things before making a design and tattooing it, I studied computer science and psychology in my past and I guess that the combination of those two fields are what really makes my designs interesting and stimulating. It is very interesting how cold lines and dots can have life and unique behaviour.”
Chaim was awarded Newcomer of the Year in Germany in 2013, and since then has clients flying in from all over the world to be tattooed by him and share in his spiritual experiences. While the act of tattooing is so intimate, the fact that once the client leaves Chaim’s studio they may never see each other again can only heighten the bond when they are together. This is particularly true with international clients, as it is less likely that they’ll ever run into each other again.
I don’t tattoo when I don’t feel a positive connection to the customer
“Yesterday I had a customer that travelled here from North China to get tattooed. Those kinds of moments make me feel so thankful for the trust that those customers give me, and fill me with excitement and motivation to create a better design than the last, and to challenge myself more.
“And of course fills me with more and more love to tattooing. And in my eyes, those things are only possible when you don’t have the border between a customer and a tattooist. I understood pretty quickly that there is no other way to learn tattooing than to really dedicate yourself to it, so I really chose to completely destroy the border between me and my customers, and to make it as intimate as possible and as effective as possible.
“I never tattoo the same design, I don’t tattoo when I don’t feel a positive connection to the customer, and I don’t make designs beforehand.
“I do everything together with my clients and make them an active part of the tattooing process. I found out that it is the most honest way to do this process. I guess that it was like that for so many years everywhere on this planet, but I think that this is something that we lost in the western world as it comes to tattooing.
“There is nothing wrong with going to a shop and choose a design from a book or a flash sheet, there is just another spiritual way to do it, which is longer, more abstract, takes more energy and trust, but rewards you much more with an individual custom design that fits to your own body.”
Due to their ever-increasing popularity of tattoos in modern society, a tattoo unique to its bearer is almost an impossibility these days. Chaim is one of the very few artists whose designs change with every single person, and the fact that he bases his designs on each individual client makes it even more personal.
Sometimes people waste more energy when they stand in front of an art creation by trying to understand to which gender it is connected
Many people get tattoos as a form of decorating their body in a way that reflects themselves, and Chaim’s tattoos are a portrayal of how he sees and understands a person. Chaim’s clients place their absolute trust in him, and this trust not only allows for a truly unique tattoo, but also creates a reflection of the trust and bond between him and his client, and of their shared spiritual experience whilst undergoing the process.
“I actually started to make those designs because it was weird for me that people try to categorise tattoos and other art forms. Sometimes people waste more energy when they stand in front of an art creation by trying to understand to which gender it is connected to and to under which category it should be defined instead of enjoying the endless opportunity of having something undefined.
“I could say that I have that split into my designs, just like in my personality, I make the minimalistic lines – the computer kid inside me, and the very detailed mandalas – the spiritual man inside me.”
Chaim has held onto his computing roots in his style; his tattoos are both analytical and beautiful, simple and complex, spontaneous and painstakingly designed. The spirituality that Chaim finds in his art is palpable in his finished tattoos; the flowing lines are relaxing and soothing, the designs are as unique as the person they adorn.
You just have to dream and to fight for it
You can only imagine what his personal spiritual journey has been like, unless you are lucky enough to share in a small part of it by getting an appointment for a tattoo session. With an artistic empire built on spiritualism, and powered by nothing more than passion and motivation, Chaim Machlev has undoubtedly achieved something entirely unique in his flavour of the tattooing experience.
“We all dream of something, but most of us think that it is too impossible to achieve it so they give up before even trying. If I could manage to be a tattoo artist that people actually travel to get tattooed by, then really, anyone can be whatever they want, you just have to dream and to fight for it. If you’re not fighting for your own dreams, what are you fighting for?”
Ben Sledge 12th January 2018