From France with love. The beautiful art of Jonathan Vagner Dunan
by Matthew Haddon-Reichardt on Apr 17, 2020
Yayo may be made in England but it’s used by tattooists all over the world. Jonathan Vagner Dunan is a French tattooist and a firm member of the Yayo family. Matt Haddon-Reichardt had a virtual sit down with Jonathan to get the low down on his art, his love for Yayo and how he is surviving the Covid-19 lockdown.
I had been planning to fly to France to interview Jonathan. A bit of a bus mans holiday, a chance to get tattooed and get paid for the pleasure of new body art. Covid-19 has meant I’m interviewing Jonathan over the internet. Like the rest of the UK my holiday has been cancelled.
"In France the environment is saturated with tattooists; it’s hard to find quality apprenticeship."
I always start interviews at the beginning. While tattooing may now be mainstream and a firm fixture of high streets across the world it still isn’t a job someone can easily step into. Like many tattooists Jonathan started at a young age and has been with the industry ever since.
“I started tattooing at the age of seventeen with the help of my mentor who is now my partner in crime. It feels like a long time ago, then again it feels like yesterday. Patience and humility are two fundamental values to stay in the profession. I did my first skin tests in his shop in Cannes; that’s how I began and I’m still going despite Covid-19 shutting us down. In France the environment is saturated with tattooists; it’s hard to find quality apprenticeship. My customer base is made up of more than 30% of cover ups. People really need to be educated about tattooing to avoid having to cover anything up. But still the scratchers get work”
I’m writing this on good Friday and as the sun soaks the English countryside and my daughter plays chase with our pet rabbits I could forget there is a pandemic sweeping the globe, killing indiscriminately. We have been on lockdown in the UK for 3 weeks, but controversially the government is permitting people to go out of the house once a day for exercise. Rules are much stricter in France.
“The French government originally said that we have to be closed until 15th April minimum but things just aren’t getting better quick enough. Who knows when we will be allowed to start tattooing again? I bet its going be until half way through May at the soonest.”
"Who knows when we will be allowed to start tattooing again?"
In the mean time Jonathan is keeping busy indulging in his passion for drawing.
“I have always loved drawing without being interested by art in general. The human body has always fascinated me and tattooing was a way of linking the two. My focus is black and grey realism tattoos. For my part I see the tattoo as a therapy, I try to transmit a particular emotion after having discussed with each person what I will tattoo. Tattooing may not go in a gallery but it is still an art form with depth and soul.”
The Covid-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of hygiene to stay fit and healthy. Hopefully it will have the knock on effect of encouraging people to look after their tattoo to the best of their ability. To heal a tattoo beautifully Jonathan recommends Yayo.
“To heal a tattoo really well first listen carefully the instructions of your tattoo artist about tattoo aftercare. The cream is very important, you must use quality products like Yayo. I’ve been working with Kirk for two years and his products are 100% natural that's what makes Yayo so strong. I use green soap and Yayo creams. I speak sometimes with Kirk and he is a hugely endearing person.”
"I’ve been working with Kirk for two years and his products are 100% natural that's what makes Yayo so strong."
Despite being out of business until the lockdown ends Jonathan has a humble perspective on the situation and a cautious attitude to social networking.
“We tattoo artists are not stars; we don't save lives like fire-fighters and doctors do! Instagram is for me a 100% professional network I reveal very little my private life. That way people only contact me for tattooing. Internet is a great tool to promote my work; however I will always keep my magazines to show them to my grandchildren.”
I round up by asking Jonathan what he will do when the outbreak is over.
“I will devote myself entirely to my new Shop that I have just opened in Cannes city centre. But as soon as this is over I’m going to get on a plane and go out and see some of the world and be grateful I’m alive.”
A final thought from the author: "Its great to see that the Yayo family is truly a global community. I get to meet and speak to so many talented artists and its a real privilege that they take time out to be interviewed by me. I'd like to thank everyone in the Yayo family for making me feel so welcome. Yayo is not just the best aftercare brand in the industry its the best company in the tattoo industry. If you want to work with the best work with Yayo"
Yayo... its a family thing.