Practices involving the creation, circulation, and utilization of flash are some of the main procedural distinctions between the history of Western tattooing and its global counterparts. While flash tattooing consequently has an immediate historical resonance which extends far outside of the tattoo community—almost anyone can immediately recognize the aesthetics of American traditional flash—it also remains an interesting question regarding the future(s) of contemporary tattooing.
Flash has an ambivalent place as both the first and last step of tattooing: first because a design is chosen to then become a tattoo; last because a design is made in order to be tattooed again and again. This provisional character functions differently within the contemporary moment, where images of tattoos are as important as tattooed images. If flash helped standardize the visual idioms that we now call “traditional,” and did so by making those images reproducible on large scales as tattoos, today flash poses important questions about the migration of tattooing into fine art, on the one hand, and everyday commodities, on the other.
With this in mind, we present the work of Simon Bundgård, a Danish artist and aspiring tattooist who is currently based in Copenhagen. Bundgård’s images will one day become tattoos, but what is striking about each piece is the fact that, as paintings, drawings, and visual ‘notes,’ they do not feel incomplete but standalone as strong, expressive works in their own right.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
When I was two years old, my parents moved to the west coast of Zealand—a big island to the east of Denmark. We lived in a very small town called Valdekilde for about four years. My mom worked at the cemetery nearby digging tombs. My dad is an artist but he also worked at a social club for pre-teens. We moved to an even smaller town called Fårevejle when I was about six or seven years old. My mom then studied to become a primary school teacher—a job she still has today—and my dad started working with troubled and criminal teenagers. I have two younger brothers and a strong social background. My parents were always supportive of whatever I wanted to do, but had strong opinions about socialism and righteousness. There wasn’t much to do in the countryside so I obviously had to entertain myself, learning to draw and playing music. I was kind of spoiled as a child. I didn’t really have any restraints. My parents helped me out with everything and didn’t really teach me that I had to work hard to achieve the things I wanted in life. That was something I had to come to know myself.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I work at an afterschool care center with children from the age of six to ten, playing football and hide and seek. From time to time I also work at a bar called Floss in the center of Copenhagen. Before that, I was full-time at the bar, which was too stressful for me. I chose to downsize my in order to paint more flash in my spare time. I want to be a tattoo apprentice. I’m currently hanging out and helping renovate a little shop in Malmö, called Spider Tattoo. Once it opens I will be an apprentice there.
Have you tattooed before? If so, how long have you been tattooing?
I haven’t really been tattooing. I made a rookie mistake buying a tattoo machine when I was about 20 years old. Quickly, I realized that wasn’t the way to do it. I tried to learn it by myself later because I was tired of looking for an apprenticeship. Nothing worked out. Now I’m just painting again, working even harder for one.
What has inspired you to learn tattooing?
Ever since I was small I’ve been a fan of punk, metal, and skate culture and fan of the artworks bound to it. That slowly developed through music and friendships into authentic traditional tattoos and folk art.
"Instagram has definitely made flash more contemporary: everyone shares the same passion for old flash and repaints them over and over again until the old designs don’t shine through any more."
Could you say more about your origins drawing?
I’ve been drawing ever since I was a small child and was very active in art class in primary school. When I go older I went to art school two times a week while going to the gymnasium and learned nothing. My teachers believed that art is something you don’t have to learn, which I think is kind of bullshit!
How would you describe your style of drawing?
I don’t know if I have a specific style yet and I don’t know if my style is recognizable. I’m influenced by a mix of Scandinavian and American (NYC-style) tattoos.
As you've noted, you're not currently creating tattoos. You are, however, receiving attention for the flash you've created and posted online. How do you understand your current work? Do you create flash as an extension of your passion for drawing? Or do you conceive of the flash you make as ideas that are waiting to be tattooed?
I understand my work as being practice for when I become a tattooer. I love drawing flash. It’s kind of repetitive—to keep evolving the same ideas and to make my work look more and more authentic, like old tattoos. I wouldn’t call myself a flash painter—I’m just practicing to be good enough to make tattoos.
Apprentices spend a large amount of their time drawing. Usually these pieces are seen as practice or preparation for later work as a tattooist, but in your case all of the flash you've produced does not seem like drafts but more like finished work. One of the reasons for this is the fact that where, traditionally, these images did not circulate online, now they are seen by large demographics due to platforms like Instagram. In your opinion, how has the status of flash imagery changed in the contemporary moment? Or, alternatively, what do you think its place is today?
I’ve been posting my flash online to get noticed by tattooers and to get involved in the tattoo community. It has helped me a lot. I’ve made friends with many tattooers through Instagram—we’ll trade flash and I’ll schedule appointments through DMs. Instagram has definitely made flash more contemporary: everyone shares the same passion for old flash and repaints them over and over again until the old designs don’t shine through any more. The flash ideas are shared quicker and more frequently.
"My teachers believed that art is something you don’t have to learn, which I think is kind of bullshit!"
What are some of your other passions?
I have a lot, actually. I should get rid of some of them. I play drums in a punk band called WOES. We have to change our name soon because there is a British pop-punk band with the same name! I make artwork for bands, producers, and some record labels too.
What inspires you generally?
A good life, hardworking people, and the possibility of doing what I want.
How would you like to see tattooing evolve?
I would love tattooing to become even bigger and better. I don’t care about what’s mainstream or not. Tattoos are cool and will hopefully be even cooler. More and more people are getting tattooed, so of course at some point there’s going to be a countermovement reversing the “trend.” Lately it’s been hyped a lot, but tattooing is always going to be here. I’m not one to talk—I got my first tattoo six years ago.
See more of Simon Bundgård’s work his Instagram (@simonbenhaard).