Shadow – that color is my ink

Kai’s eyes are northling blue like a winter grey sea. He was born in the central part of Germany and grew up on the border between Siegerland and Westerwald, but as soon as he was able to, he loosened the grip on his childhood country and drew north to the coasts and the sea, it had always sung its unyielding song to him. But leaving comes with a price, and therefore, with the coast within arm’s length, he must now look back and he can still sense the old low slate mountains with their roots deep down in the European continent. They pull him back to the other home in the inland with regular intervals. Like the rest of us, he is divided between the landscape that shaped him and the idea of the other place – the place where you recreate yourself.

Photos and tattoos: Kai Uwe Faust. The snowflake just landed on my shoulder.

I had my first tattoo when I was 19 years old by a tattooist in Herning in the northwestern part of Jütland. I had with the measurement of that specific time spend quite a while thinking about what, where and why. I had drawn the piece myself and traced the drawing to a piece of parchment paper and with that close at hand we left western Jütland and travelled north, Fiske and I, she was just as well prepared, holding on to her own piece of parchment paper. It was before the internet was widely used – 1990 – so our research began with looking in the phonebook to check out the names of the tattooist in the immediate vicinity or in the region at least. Then we asked to see upper arms, chests and shoulder blades on anyone we could think of, and in the end we made an appointment with the chosen tattooist and were escorted northwards by some friends who had a car. Later as we drove home the parchment paper had been replaced with cellophane and tape, which was plastered over the tattoos to protect them. We had marked our skin with the same infallible certainty as when you put your first cross on a piece of paper. I am. It was a little clumsy, but it meant something.

To some extent, I think it is coincidental how you chose a tattooist. I continued to admire upper arms, chests and shoulder blades, whenever I had the opportunity. I saw fine tattoos and tattoos that were not so fine, fashions that were there one day and then gone again just as suddenly. I was not really tempted, I had no money, but I could do the admiring well and I did. I began seeing interesting dragon tattoos from Copenhagen, Viking patterns and I liked them very much. They were done by hand and not machine. I moved to Copenhagen and one day I realized that I had found the person who I wanted to make my next tattoo. If I should compare him to other tattooists who I think are equal to him in skill, I would say that in all his tattoos – both the ones I like the least and the ones I like the most, there is something alive or maybe I should say free, that in my view makes him stand out. I thought this is a man, who knows how to color beyond the boundaries.

portrait of Kai Uwe Faust

Stencils: god mask by Uffe Berenth, Odin by Kai Uwe Faust, Photos: Rikke Kooistra. And thanks to Erling for making them glow!

I could say that I was as well prepared, as when I was nineteen, when I went up the narrow staircase to the studio on the second floor in the center of Copenhagen, but that would not be true. I had no parchment paper and only a relatively coherent idea about where and what, but not exactly in which shape or size. But I did not care, again I was driven by an inner certainty, that this was what I wanted, and that it was important somehow. If pestered a little I would probably say that it was like in some kind of dream, and how can you prepare yourself for that? You cannot bring parchment paper for sure, but perhaps you can affect it in some other way. Down into the rabbit hole with her.

I came across a thought in Nietzsche’s ”Human, all too human”, a distinction between the civilized human and the early humankind in relation to dreams. He observes that the primitive human might not perceive that there is an actual difference between what happens in a dream and what happens in reality. Both parts may have equal influence and be equally real to him. N calls our dream world the curriculum of an earlier humankind. A state in which we still spend half of our lives. Poets or artist reminds him of the earlier humankind by trying to go back into the dream and by using the dream state as a (false) cause for their actions. By examining the poet, you can examine the earlier humankind. (Favorite) Nietzsche is of course not all satisfied by this degeneration of the spirit of civilized man. But if I just stay with the observation and the repeal of the boundary between dream and reality and save the question of a possible impairment of my spirit for another time.

I have a dream about being me. I do not know if this is the dream Kai and I discuss sitting in the studio talking about things that wind around my arm or land ice-cold and soft on my shoulder. I think it is. There are shapes in my consciousness and when I think about it, it seems as though they have always been there, playing a part. They are clearer to me now than they were before. On a number of points because the distance to them has grown, from being just a part of what defined me, they have now become something else than me. Shadows that lie beneath the skin, waiting to erupt.

Photos: Rie Bojer Kooistra

What is it Kai taps out with his needle? The black color is the same black color that is used on all the guests in the studio, when mixed with the pigmentation in my skin and my blood, it becomes blue-grey. That color is my ink. It creates a contrast and draws a pattern. It makes the split visible, because even if there is no fixed boundary between what exist in the dream and what exists in reality, there are both boundaries and distances in my consciousness. Barriers that I must overcome and things that only slowly dawn on me. The division between the place where I grew up, the first dream, my childhood, and the other place where I am recreated, in a wanted shape. The coast or the inland. We leave the first place and then take it back again. In that respect, I can think of Kai as a sort of dream painter, who tries to lure concrete creatures and shapes out of my diffuse images. There is a promise in those drawings, a promise that I will remember the wild and strange mirror images that arose with my very first view on the world. Remember my connection to the old humankind, where dream and reality, and maybe time, played altogether different roles.

I do understand that some people prefer to bring sketches and see designs before they let themselves be marked. It is after all rather permanent, it hurts some places and it of course costs money and time. For me the play made the process interesting, with freehand drawings made directly on my skin, or stencils that where made while we talked or Kai worked and I watched. It was interesting, funny and a little frightening. I know Kai fits the process to the costumer. In many cases it is very organized with drawings that are sent back and forth months before the big day. But I wanted something else, maybe he as well – I think I will call it the significant coincidence.

Are they beautiful or ugly, the tattoos? I do not know. I think Kai’s drawings are very fine indeed, in some places, I think my tattoos are extremely beautiful. But they are not ornamentation. I did not get them, because I wanted them to be beautiful or because I thought that they would make me beautiful. The truth often takes detours in both directions, so they might be both – hideous and lovely – and neither. The important thing I can say about them is that they stopped being something other than me, the moment the needle penetrated my skin and left little droplets of ink there. I have just flooded my boundaries and spread the colors from my dreams to my skin. As it happens, I like to be a little white; I also like to be a little blue.


I am being tattooed by Kai Uwe Faust from Kunsten på Kroppen (Art on the Body). Kunsten på Kroppen is placed in a cozy little studio on the second floor just behind the City hall in the center of Copenhagen. The studio opened in 1988 with Eric Reime in the lead. Today Kai owns the company. Kunsten på Kroppen specializes in tattoos done by hand, that is without machines, and in motives particularly from the Nordic mythologies. They do however make designs from other cultures as well. You can see more of Kais beautiful tattoos on Kunsten på Kroppens homepage.

To readers who are interested in literature, I can tell that Kai’s surname ‘Faust’ is a family name. In Germany today, there are two, from each other independent families, who carry that name and occasionally researchers try to trace from which family the Ur-Faust legend comes. But to this day without success.

„Grau, teurer Freund, ist alle Theorie. Und grün des Lebens goldner Baum“