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Topo: Artist, Tattooer, Cool Guy

Can you introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about where you’re from?

My name is Topo and I was born and raised in Venezuela. After that I moved to Belgium and was there for around 10 years. Right now I live in Mexico, where I’ve been for around 4-5 years.

Do you like Mexico?

Meh. Sometimes. But that’s the same thing with anyplace if you ask me. I don’t like staying in one place, after a while I start to get tired of it. I think it’s because I wasn’t born where I was raised, I was in Europe a lot and I always wanted to go back to Venezuela. Today I want to go back, but I also want to go back to Belgium and keep traveling. I feel like I’m a sedentary nomad, I don’t have to be moving around a lot everyday but I do like to move globally. I also get tired of people. I’m social but I need a lot of personal time, so I get tired of people quickly. Moving helps everything refresh.

Have you always been creative?

Since I was little I have memories of entering painting contests and painting or drawing classes. I doodled a lot in notebooks, I drew characters, I did graffiti, then I got into murals. In Belgium I had to study so I studied graphic design. Before that I studied photography and worked as a photographer for a while in Venezuela. I’ve always liked making images. In Belgium I got to meet a lot of contemporary artists that were opening galleries and shops and so I started making paintings and selling them like they were. I did well at the graphic design school with the practical stuff but not the theory, I didn’t want to learn philosophy in Dutch. I’ve always preferred to learn the practical stuff with my hands and by watching people do it. I’ve always had access to people that know how to do it and give advice, and that’s the kind of people I like to keep around me. Now that I’m older not as much because you get more stubborn as you get older, but these last few years I’ve had a lot of important mentors that have taught me a lot. I couldn’t tell you when I became an artist, but I always had this need to be drawing and making things. I’ve had to do a lot of shit jobs, and thanks to that I really appreciate my time and my capacity to make a living doing what I do.

How did you get to that point of making a living off of art?

I don’t know, I still don’t think I’ve accomplished that. I don’t think I’ll accomplish that until I die. I can look back and see that for the last ten years I haven’t had a contract with anyone; I decide and work with my own clients and it’s a system that feeds itself. But I’ve gotten to solid ground and few artists get to do that. I didn’t come from poverty or anything, I was pretty privileged. Then I went to Europe and had to figure it out on my own, but that’s how you figure it out. I know I don’t want to be cleaning bathrooms anymore because I’ve done it, so I try harder to keep being an artist and being proactive. I’ve been privileged to have patrons, but I’ve always wanted to keep pushing my art and share it with different people whether it’s free or paid. If you keep putting your stuff out, eventually it gets to places. It’s a lot of consistency, luck, and style. It’s a continuous search. I don’t think I’ll get it till I die and I hope to die with a pen in my hand. Right now everyone says they’re an artist and you can measure that in a lot of ways: number of followers, museum exhibitions, gallery exhibitions. And it’s all completely abstract so everyone should judge for themselves.

How did you develop your own style?

It’s not mine, the style is a universal thing I think. In the beginning, I used to hate using references because it was me. I’m the one making it, it’s my pen, and most of these references are dead. They’re obvious too: Picasso, Kandinsky, Miro, then also Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Ren and Stimpy, Tony Hawk, punk; they’ve all inspired me throughout the years. The base is still the same. Then tattoos have also let me develop a style within tattooing. As long as you keep evolving and developing then keep on moving.

You paint, tattoo, graffiti, so what’s your favorite mode of art?

There’s nothing like putting a sticker on a person, they thank you, and everyone goes home. It’s something where you were intensely concentrated from 1 to 12 hours, sometimes more, and you left a piece that’s permanent in that person’s life and permanent in the world. They’re completely different kinds of art pieces, they’re pieces that people collect and they take them everywhere. They’re pieces that are moving all over the world and sending you other pieces back, it’s crazy.

How and when did you get into tattooing?

Around 2012 I started to learn. I had tattooed before, but it’s been like eight years of taking it seriously. It hasn’t been fast but since I already had an artistic development outside of tattooing, which many tattoo artists don’t have, I had an advantage and that brought me clients. When people buy your images they’re buying this vibration that that happens in their eyes that attracts them to it, and that’s how you start getting your clients. You create this catalog of images that complement this style and create a language that your clients like. Tattooing is one of the oldest forms of art outside of cave painting. Ancient people were trying to figure out ways to tattoo themselves, forming their own pigments and everything. There are so many ancient people that have been discovered that have tattoos, even old tribes tattooed themselves. Tattoos today are forms of fine art and like pop art, but it’s something primal; why have I, since I was little, been adding tattoos to all my characters? It’s primal.

What was your first tattoo?

A ‘topo’ (mole) on my leg that was done by a friend. It was his first time tattooing and it was my first tattoo. It’s still there.

How do you get inspired?

Lately my clients have helped a lot. It comes in phases, sometimes I’m inspired and I grab my ipad or sketchbook and start drawing. Lately [since quarantine] I’ve been drawing a lot. I’ll draw, watch TV, play video games, paint a little, smoke, cook. Trying to stay busy. When I’m traveling I try to always carry a sketchbook to draw whenever I have time. For me, drawing is something I try not to force, and it comes pretty naturally to me. When I’m talking to people, whether they’re interesting or not, I’ll be doodling on something rather than looking at their face. I feel more comfortable that way. My style used to be very basic before starting to tattoo and with tattooing it’s gotten better. People come to me and tell me they like my style and they want a tattoo of it. If you come to me it’s because you want me to tattoo you and you like that style of tattoo. When people understand that, then I’ll work with them, I’ll work with everyone. But people inspire the most-- canvases don’t say thanks, they don’t give you ideas, they don’t tell you what they want, they don’t show you what they like. That’s one of the things I appreciate most about tattooing, that feedback. I don’t like that when it comes to paintings. I’m going to paint what I want whether people like it or not. If you don’t like it, I’ll find someone who will. My mom doesn’t even like half the things I make.

What’s your process like?

Most of the time I just go and see what happens. Today my work is more varied and so my processes are different for different mediums and aesthetics. There are so many different processes because it’s hard to define the ‘process.’ My tattoo process is almost the same every time, I know how to make my clients comfortable and how I’ll be comfortable and so we do it and we’re good. Then I have a painting that I don’t know if I’ll ever finish. So it’s hard to define a process. We have to define what we want to do and from there develop a process that lets you get to the result. I learned a lot about that when I had my print press, what do you want the end result to be and what are the steps to get there. Just keep on moving, if you constantly keep moving forward, even mentally, you’ll get there.

When and how did TopoCopy start?

It’s almost 10 years old at this point, it started end of 2009 beginning of 2010. I had to leave art school after two years because I wasn’t passing any of the theory classes and they didn’t want to let me keep doing practical classes until I passed them. During those two years still in school I had been going to a print press that was near my house that was owned by a guy named Patrick. He really liked my work and every time I took my art to get printed there he would help me out or leave the shop open just so I could finish. He’d keep copies of my art and hang it on the shop walls to show what kind of work they could do. Then when I was in the process of leaving school I talked to him about needing a job. At that point I was working shit jobs at restaurants, and so he offered me one. He needed a creative that could print and needed a full time employee, so I did that. I did it for about a year but working at a commercial printer wasn’t what I was looking for. The creative work I was getting wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and at some point he had to fire me because they needed something different, they needed someone to just hit the print button all day and not be creative. But he let me keep the key and I could work when they were closed with all the materials free of cost, and that’s how I got my first art patron. From there he paid me a salary and told me to keep developing my art and we started having gallery expositions and shows. They ended up going bankrupt but he gave me a huge riso printer and a computer. At the time I was working with an association that was doing cultural work with youth in the city and they saw an opportunity and they helped create the shop TopoCopy. It’s still there and managed by the same people, other than me. It still has the same philosophy and still works with the same artists. Now it’s turned into a form of a ‘print research center’ where we have partners like the Museum of Industry and we can print in different ways and we get funding by the government to do things like close streets and print with a road rollers and everything. They are some amazing projects, but it’s Belgium and you can do things there that you can’t anywhere else, it’s like Disneyland. The things we were making were actually making an impact.

Does being Hispanic influence your art or tattoos at all?

Yeah of course. But you have to consider that I left Venezuela when I was around 17, so I’ve spent more than half my life living outside of it. I had to mature outside of Latin America, so I consider myself a little more global. In Europe I’m considered more Latino and here (Mexico) I’m considered more European. But that lets me see what I’m missing from each place. Like here, I miss the punctuality or the European structure. But when I’m over there, I miss the ‘desnalge latino’ or ‘desmadre.’ The way you do things here is very different than in Europe. But I am influenced by both of those, the European and Latin influences. But I’m also influenced by American culture too. When I was little my parents stopped letting us watch novelas and they put on HBO so that we could learn, even if it was just by watching Terminator. That’s how I learned English and “hasta la vista baby” and American mannerisms. Now many of my tattoo tours I take go to the US. A lot of my references are from American pop culture too: Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, and Ren and Stimpy. So European, Latin, American, and then also Mexican influences.

What’re you most proud of? What’s your favorite piece of art?

TopoCopy for sure. And favorite piece of art is probably the last tattoo I did. That’ll probably be the answer anytime you ask me. I have a lot of love and respect for anyone that comes and sits in the tattoo chair with me

Do you have any goals as an artist? Anything you want to do in the future?

I’d love to go to Japan, but that’s more of a personal goal. I’ve gone to a lot of places but I haven’t gone to Africa or Russia or Japan. I want to go somewhere and explore it with my work, somewhere where your work is the only form of communication with the person in front of you. I can’t sell them anything in Spanish or English, which I’m good at doing, or French or Dutch. If you don’t like my work then there’s no communication, and I want to see what would happen in a situation like that. When I used to make murals I went to Rabo de Peixe in Portugal, which is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Europe. I went there to paint murals and they don’t speak Spanish and I didn’t speak Portuguese and yet we managed to communicate, and that trip influenced me a lot.

Do you have words of inspiration for future artists or tattoo artists? Be you. It’s all you can do, be you. Don’t read the comments haha. Keep on moving. I mentioned it earlier, but keep on moving. That’s a good way to attack life.

Last question, tacos or arepas?

Coño, arepas, obvio. Tacos are good too, but arepas. A good ham and cheese arepa, amazing.

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