Saint Molotov found his roots in tattoo culture when he became part of the Trojan Skin movement in France when still at school. Through the support of his tattooer friends, he took the step to taking his graphical drawings onto the body, and now works in a style influence by mysticism and occultism, among a range of religious references. Saint Molotov discusses his newest zine project Welcome 2 Paradise and what might be in store next.
What is your name, birthplace, and year of birth?
My name is Thierry Greiner, AKA Saint Molotov, and I was born in France, Corbeil Essonnes in Paris’ suburbs in 1973. I have a French father and a Spanish mother.
Where did you grow up? Please describe your upbringing and sociocultural background.
I grew up in a small town in this Paris suburb, educated in part by my grandmother, with whom we were living. I learnt many things to do with country life, especially gardening, and we made our own cider at home. I went to the catechism in my childhood until I was 11 years old, but I didn’t have any religious education at home. My father was from a working class background, like my grandparents. With my father, we fixed a lot of cars and scooters. This gave me the knowledge to be an autodidact in many different activities! I went to a suburban school at 12 years old. I had friends there listening to oi! and ska music, so I entered this apolitical skinhead movement oi! Then, a few years later, I became a Trojan Skin, a fan of early reggae, Northern Soul and 60’s duds. That’s the moment I started drawing and writing my first fanzines. It’s also in this movement that I discovered tattoo culture and had my first one done in 1991 for my 18th birthday.
Where do you currently work? Prior to that, where have you worked?
I’m actually working in Brussels, Belgium. Before that, I’ve worked as a guest for three years in various shops in Europe. I had my own shop for three years in Lyon, France, called Le Tigre Noir. I also worked at plenty of conventions in Amsterdam, Dublin, Rotterdam, Maastricht, Pau, Montpellier, Lille, Luik etc. Also, in Katmandu in Nepal, where I had an exhibition at the same time as L’alliance Française. Additionally, I worked for a month in Hong Kong with my buddy Leon Lam who helped me a lot at the beginning of my career.
How long have you been tattooing?
I’ve been doing this seriously since 2011.
What inspired you to learn tattooing, and what did you initially learn how to tattoo?
Some of my tattoo artist pals motivated me to get on the tattoo path, telling me that my graphical art was adaptable to the discipline and that I could have a place in tattoo culture. I thank these guys a lot, who have supported me from the beginning. Otherwise, my graphical art has always been the same–I’ve done my own drawings in the same style.
Were you trained through a formal apprenticeship? Describe the circumstances of learning.
I learnt a lot by watching buddies do tattoos, watching them work on me, and by watching them work in their shop. I spent a lot of time talking with them. I also tattooed myself in my kitchen at the beginning and tattooed in the shops of my friends. I was very fortunate to know some tattoo artists who helped me a lot.
How did you develop your style? How would you describe it? What are your influences?
At the beginning; I was drawing on the theme of the working class because it was my background. I was working in a factory and my studies were all about industries. The English working class interested me because of its history also. I definitively quit this environment when I moved to the mountains to pursue a project on eco construction and alimental autonomy. My girlfriend at the time started to make stained glasses. At this moment, I totally stopped working for a salary and only concentrated on building and repairing my house, taking care of the garden etc. My artistic work changed at this time and it became more focused on mystical visions and allegorical projections of my life and of the future. I separated with my girlfriend in 2008 and I met the first “lady” who opened my eyes to spirituality and my sensibility to this kind of thing. I’ve met a lot of people in this environment and in 2009, when I moved to Lyon (where I’d been exhibiting for two years) I continued to meet new people in the circles of occultism. My work naturally flows towards these subjects, for example I have done projects such as creating a collective tarot. At this time, I also met some tattoo artists who motivated me to start tattooing. My tattoo style is a mix of mysticism and occultism with a major part of judeo-christian influences from my culture. I’m interested in other cultures like Haitian and Thailand voodoo and Brasilian Candomblé, but I don’t really know too much about the symbolism of these culture because they’re not mine. However, judéo-christianisme occultism comes to me by instinct. It’s a kind of instinctive tattooing even if I make some stencils–it’s like drawing directly on people for me. There’s an aspect of improvisation in all my work. When I draw for someone, I just let my feelings drawing for me, and then hope that the drawing will be good for the customer.
Do you have any hobbies outside of tattooing?
I rarely have the sensation of working. My life is essentially dedicated to art and to this microcosm I developed. I spend the largest part of my time on tattooing, drawing, painting, writing, and developing fanzines; finding new sounds and books. All these things are linked for me and cannot be separated. Even on weekends with my lover, I take photos of things that inspire me, without ever thinking about “working”.
What inspires you generally?
A big part of my inspiration comes from books. I search for them with a passion during travels or customers offer them to me. I’m also really inspired by the ancient places I see in Europe; I picture it, from “bas-relief” to stained glasses. Also, my customers with whom I talk a lot about their life, their desires–they’re inspiring.
Are any other forms of media, traditional or digital, important to your work?
Yes, I’m interested in micro-editions and fanzines, but also being present in art galleries. I’m very attached to works on paper and to objects; the physical ability to touch is very important to me. Since 1991 I have published fanzines and since 2009 I’ve done some micro editions of books and poems. It’s important to me to have this way to express myself.
Is traveling important to you? If so, where do you usually travel? Do you have any interesting experiences abroad that you can share?
I traveled a lot during the last three years in Europe, guesting in Oslo, from Prague to London, Amsterdam, Venice, Berlin, Hamburg, Belfast etc. I used to move every single week and didn’t have my own place¬–it was a pretty good experience. It’s important to me to meet people from other cultures and experience other points of views. I really grew up by doing this. I’ve also been to places such as Hong Kong and Katmandu where I met some really nice people and was welcomed by people I didn’t know. I had the opportunity to discover these cities not as a tourist, because I was totally immersed in the local culture. It’s a really amazing experience but, after all these years, I just wanted to have my own place in Brussels because to me, it feels like the center of Europe. I’m trying to move only one week per month so my customers are welcome to discover this beautiful city.
What is the main challenge of tattooing today?
I think it will be the creation of tattooing schools or classes; I think this is the path tattooing will go. It seems to make sense, even if autodidacts will always find their public too, as in painting and other arts.
Please can you give us some information about your new zine Welcome 2 Paradise? How did it come about?
I created Welcome 2 Paradise during an artist residency in December 2017 in a gallery in Potier, France, in which I exhibited in January 2018. From there, the fanzine became more popular. My first goal was to create a link between the public and my own world, to make it more accessible for them and help them to understand it. I wanted to sustain the relationship between the ones who like my world and the ones are long term followers of my art, as well as the poems and tattoos. In 2017, the fanzine was named Criminal and Religious, and then it became Welcome 2 Paradise in January 2018. Inside the Fanzine there are vinyl reviews, book reviews, interviews, poetry, drawings, and pictures.
Why did you want to make a zine specifically? What is it about that format that you are drawn to?
I really like the simple and efficient form of this media. Photocopying, scissors, pencils, tape–and that’s all folks. You can create something and dispatch it easily without an expensive investment. Also, people can share it, reprint it, and then share it again, wherever they are. It’s kind of a DIY propaganda. I always thought this is a really good tool for things you like.
We saw that you were included in the French Skin Heads zine in the 80’s. Please can you tell us a bit more about this zine and your contribution to it?
I’ve been really active in the 80’s and 90’s skinhead’s fanzines (always being “no political”) for eight years; I worked for five years on a fanzine called Le P’tit Tondu. I used to do everything by myself, the articles, the drawings, the fan mail. Some people helped me on the editing of few interviews but I actually used to do everything at nighttime. It was not political, even if some of the interviews were about political bands in the first issue. From the third issue, it was more and more like “Spirit’s of 69”–early reggae, northersn soul, glam, scooter–with a lot of naked women and articles about 60’s English series, Bruce Lee, Russ Meyer, James Bond. It was only for fun and really humorous. I sold it everywhere in the world, in Europe, USA, Japan, and Canada. I met a lot of people doing this and I created a lot of friendships. It’s through this that I had my picture on the first EP of Herberts, an oi! band, and have since been invited to a lot of concerts.
Do you have any plans for future zine projects? Or would you ever consider a different format such as a book etc?
A third issue of Welcome 2 Paradise is planned for September. During July, a new fanzine called Pause café will start and will be focused on my poems only. I don’t have any plans to do any books actually at the moment.
Thanks to you TTTISM and to all the people who support me.