Ivan Antonyshev is a Russian-born tattooist who currently tattoos between various studios throughout the world. His style is based in a refreshing idiom of American traditional tattooing combined with traces of Japanese and Orthodox imagery. You can pick up a tattoo from Antonyshev in Los Angeles on January 14th and 15th or in Santa Ana on January 19th and 20th.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Ivan Antonyshev. I was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1994.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I spent my childhood years in between St. Petersburg and a rural town by the Baltic Sea. I then moved to the States with my mom and spent most of my teenage years in the Midwest. My parents are both visual artists in their own respects, and as a young child being surrounded by their creative energy helped spark something inside of me. I realized I could draw well during middle school, then I realized I wanted to travel more: those two realizations led me to where I am now.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
Since early 2018, I have been traveling full-time with no permanent residence. Prior to that, I was working at Mainstay Tattoo in Austin, Texas. I have also worked at a few street shops in Texas and Indiana.
How long have you been tattooing?
I did my first tattoo sometime in 2012.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
The prospect of freedom that tattooing offered was my biggest inspiration. I skipped out on art school to take a shot at tattooing, knowing that I wanted to be able to travel and draw. I realized early on that the nine to five life wasn’t for me. I placed my faith in tattooing and the idea that it could take me all over the world, while allowing me to being creative on my own terms. At my first shop I learned the basics of walk-ins. It was a pretty busy street shop, with constant traffic of clients who wanted names, smoke, stars, guns, rays of light, etc. I pretty much did anything that walked through the door.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I did not have a formal apprenticeship—I suppose “sub-formal” would be a more appropriate term. I had a loose mentor who I “shadowed” under for a couple of months in Indiana, and following that I got very lucky in meeting some great people along the way who have helped me immensely and continue to inspire my work. There was a lot of trial and error.
Have you previously studied art in an institutional setting? If so, what level of training did you reach and in what disciplines?
I never studied art formally. I had wanted to—I still do—but a glimpse of tattooing offered me everything I had wanted from art school without the debts and the hassle. I was getting ready to start school, but got a job at a shop a few weeks before I was supposed to begin.
Did that training help as you learned the mechanics of tattooing?
I knew I could draw, so I was confident I could learn to tattoo. However, I found the mechanics of tattooing to be a very different skillset than drawing or painting. Being around my parents helped cultivate taste, and that is still one of the most important things which I continually strive to refine.
"My style is rooted in traditional tattooing. I had started out wanting to do portrait work, because that’s what I was most familiar with. A lot of shitty tattoos later, I realized what I liked more and what, in my eyes, made better tattoos—a traditional style of work."
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
My style is rooted in traditional tattooing. I had started out wanting to do portrait work, because that’s what I was most familiar with. A lot of shitty tattoos later, I realized what I liked more and what, in my eyes, made better tattoos—a traditional style of work. That realization began my path to figure out what “traditional style” even meant, and how to make it feel a bit like my own. I still feel like I’m far from that. My influences are varied and I take inspiration from everything that offers it. Tattoos, tattoo-related paintings, contemporary and archaic works of art. I’m drawn to antiquity and I try to borrow from that. For me, influence is a very fluid thing—it comes from many people, places, things, ideas, scents, patterns, dreams, etc. There is no singular source of it. Lately I’ve been really into impressionist paintings, and some of the art made by early civilizations.
What do you look for in a shop?
People I can get along with come first, then a level of discipline and respect towards the work that they make. Those traits reflect onto the shop in a way that makes it what it is. I think the space comes after those who pour their energy into it. That’s what shapes it.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
Shower beers. Skateboarding. Ancient civilizations. Hiking. WoW.
What inspires you generally?
Inspiration comes and goes, similar to influence—it can come from anything. Being around someone with a good attitude and love for what they do never fails to work.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
I mentioned earlier that taste is important to me. As long as one’s taste improves, the quality of output is bound to follow. For me, painting is important. I used to paint with oils. Lately I find I’ve been contemplating paintings more than doing them, but I hope to dive in again when I have a consistent place to work.
As a tattooist with no fixed studio, what does traveling mean to you? Where do you usually travel and do you have any interesting experiences that you can share?
I’ve always aspired to travel full-time, and I’d be hard pressed to name a place where I would not like to go. I’ve been traveling since early 2018. I’ll probably always travel even if I end up settling down somewhere, whenever that may be. Around my birthday in June, my girlfriend and I got our open water scuba certification in Indonesia, and on the last dive about 20m down, there was a really sudden and strong down current into what looked like an abyss. The dive master instructed us to grab onto coral on the ocean floor. It came loose, and I was lucky enough to be able to grab onto another that held me from getting sucked down. It was a couple of minutes that felt like forever—and my hands were inches away from one of the most poisonous fish in the world.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
Is there a challenge of tattooing? In my work, I’m the main challenge. I think anything is what we make it, and that is dependent on what we choose to focus on.
Ideally, how would you like to see tattooing evolve? How do you think it will evolve realistically?
I spent some time thinking about this question, and at the end of the day it’s a difficult one to answer: I hope tattooing continues to progress and evolve, unmolested by authority and the general mainstream media.