It’s getting close to midnight in France, and the day is just drawing to an end for tattoo artist and notorious workaholic Stéphane Chaudesaigues. He’s talking to Tattoo Magazine via Skype from his home computer, while beautiful Cécile—the love of his live—listens in.
Born in Versailles—a suburb of Paris famous for its lavish, crystal-laced and gold-gilded royal palace—Stéphane actually grew up in the town’s less glamorous projects during the late sixties and seventies. Such an environment rarely favors peoples’ ascent in the world, but Stéphane’s passion for tattooing and his ambition to become the best skin artist would set the pace and pave the way to the rest of his life.
Back in the 1990s, the self-taught tattooist traveled stateside to showcase his work on the American tattoo convention circuit, where he met some of his idols and got a true measure of his talent. This turned out to be a career-affirming decision for Stéphane, who wowed collectors and peers alike with the photorealistic tattoo style he helped pioneer. At the time, the emerging trend was informed by Stéphane’s love of classic European paintings. He went on to win the National Tattoo Association’s coveted Artist Of The Year award in 1995, becoming another star in the tattoo firmament.
After perfecting his craft for 3 decades, Stéphane felt that it was time to give something back to a community that had been so generous to him, and decided to focus his efforts on further elevating tattooing in the world. This led him to found the Chaudesaigues Award as a symbol of recognition of an artist’s journey, career achievements and artistic orientations. The award gives artists a chance to have their work reviewed by a panel of esteemed professionals.
The first award was presented to American tattooist James Kern in February 2012, during Shane O’Neill’s Best Of The Midwest tattoo convention in Council Bluffs, Iowa (See sidebar). Kern was selected among over 60 applicants worldwide, and accepted the ‘Heart Of Daisies’ trophy from the hands of famous tattooist and event organizer Shane O’Neill. Stéphane Chaudesaigues explains that more than a trophy, the bronze, marble and gold sculpture represents the love that the entire Chaudesaigues family has for art, going back to Stéphane’s ancestor Eusèbe, a benevolent erudite who, in the 1800s, founded a scholarship to encourage deserving students in architecture.
Stéphane and many of his colleagues see it as their mission to refocus the art of tattooing so it belongs more to tattoo artists and a little less to mass media (you know just the type of media we’re referring to). “We [artists] see ourselves are whole beings who have chosen to dedicate our lives to something that we believe in; to an activity that we feel needs to remain pure and true. I am offended to see how television can manipulate us, exploiting what we create into consumable wares and turning us into overnight (but disposable) stars,” says Stéphane. “This is why I wanted to bring the focus back to the more tangible, artistic values of our craft and created this award with the help of Cécile, Shane O’Neill, Nikko Hurtado, Boris Zalaszam, Andréa Afferni and many others, including our sponsors.
The next Chaudesaigues Award will be presented at Antonio’s and Alex de Pase’s La Tattoo Expo Napoli in Naples, Italy, June 28, 29 and 30, 2013. Tattoo artists are welcome to apply for consideration for the next Chaudesaigues Award by visiting www.chaudesaigues-award.com. —Ben Lamboeuf
A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, James Kern of No Hope No Fear Tattoo Art Studio is the recipient of the first Chaudesaigues Award for 2012. James’ passion for art started at an early age: him and his brother, Tim (now also a tattoo artist) would draw for hours on end, under their supportive mother’s watchful eye. James followed a number of art programs eventually attending classes at the Art Institute in Chicago, where he graduated with a Bachelors degree in Fine Art in 1995.
James started tattooing while at the Art Institute in 1994. Self-taught, he worked on friends in his spare time while working coloring comic books. In 1996, answering an ad in the paper, James was hired at Milios Salon as a tattoo artist and moved to No Hope No Fear three years later, where he now works alongside Rachel Gilbert.
Kern’s unique touch caught the attention of the Chaudesaigues Jury who award him this first Chaudesaigues Award. Kern is emotional as he recalls winning the award. “I have worked hard to become a better tattoo artist since I got started in the business and I always gave it my all. So receiving this sort of acknowledgement was an amazing feeling for me.”
As part of the Chaudesaigues Award, James Kern was also given a free booth at the Best Of The Midwest convention, an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Paris, plus a pass to all of the city’s museums and a private seminar with a renowned tattoo artist.