The girl with the gun

The power of punk sent Luci Lou on a tattoo odyssey from São Paolo to Berlin.

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Photo by German Palomeque

The power of punk sent Luci Lou on a tattoo odyssey from São Paolo to Berlin.

The tattoo gun wasn’t Luci Lou’s first passion. “I found genetics fascinating, and wanted to be a microbiologist, or a marine biologist… but punk rock changed me,” the São Paolo native laughs, explaining that her favourite bands – Bad Religion, “and of course Sepultura, the biggest metal band in Brazil!” – heightened her awareness of animal rights. “I would have had to do a lot of tests on animals, including vivisection to be able to graduate. I thought, shit, I have to do something different!”

Her original solution: graphic design. She paid her way through university by doing tattoos, a trick she’d picked up before she was even old enough to set foot in a studio. “When I was 16, I co-ran this record shop in São Paulo’s Rock Gallery, and I rented the spare room to a tattoo artist. She’d ask me to do drawings for her sometimes, and in return she began to teach me tattooing.”

Leaving Brazil at 18 to fulfil her Wanderlust, her side gig became her main occupation. From Buenos Aires to London (where she completed her official tattoo training at New Wave Tattoo), with stops in Milan and Mexico in between, Lou moved to Berlin in 2016, on the invitation of reputed Mitte studio Berlin Ink. “Luci had guested with us a couple of times and she was incredibly popular,” says manager Niki Ianiro.“As a woman it can be hard to be taken seriously in the tattoo industry. But Luci’s experience and incredible precision earned her respect in the profession. She’s great!”

Now Lou is one of the 10 international artists working there on a regular basis. Customers clamour for her colourful designs that mix art nouveau, graffiti and retro oral patterns, and are largely influenced by her travels. “I’ve been to so many countries and I’m a bit like a sponge,” she explains, leafing through some sketches. “I also do a lot of mandala patterns, which are very popular in Berlin.”

Although she doesn’t speak German, communication has never been a problem for Lou, even when it comes to complicated sleeves and cover-ups. “I even had a customer who was mute! I don’t know how we managed, all I know is she must have liked it because she’s kept coming back for more!”

The 41-year-old is covered in ink herself, each tattoo corresponding to a friend or fellow artist. “Stizzo from Milan did a diamond heart on the back of my knee, Allan Graves from London did a heart with a spider crawling on it as a tribute to my favourite Ramones song, ‘Poison Heart’…” She’s grateful for Berlin’s massive, supportive Brazilian community – “I’ve got some very good Brazilian friends, and also customers!” Most commiserate with her about the culture shock of German bureaucracy. “If you think of it in terms of art – in Brazil it’s all about curves, and colour and improvised harmony, whereas Germany is the Bauhaus with lots of squares and straight lines and preordained functionality. For us, it’s sometimes difficult to understand why things have to be so infexible!”

She has no immediate plan to leave the land of straight lines and Ordnung, but, she says, things could always change. “My approach to the future is a bit like how I work on my tattoos. I start drawing without having a perfect idea how I’d like it to look in the end, then halfway through I might start thinking it needs a bit more yellow here or a few more leaves. I like to leave it open. With my life, it’s the same.”