The time had passed and we got out of the car. I knocked the door ̶ hoping it was the right room that I was looking for ̶ then I felt so relieve when Charlie Chris Evan and Kartika Jahja greeted us.
Charlie Chris Evan is the owner of Kedai Tato Bahagia (Happy Tattoo Shop), a private tattoo studio on Jalan Radio, South Jakarta. The artsy and vintage ambience of the studio, and the warmth that Charlie and Tika gave us are the things that make me even more excited to get to know a little bit about tattoo art.
Everything started when Charlie was still on the third grade of primary school. That time, he lived in Lampung, South Sumatera with his family.
“My dad worked at an ice cream company, so I could eat a lot of free ice creams because my house was next to the ice cream warehouse. It made me really happy. But as the time went by, I got bored because I didn’t have many friends to play with. Then my parents gave me some drawing sets to play with.”
Charlie started to make a lot of drawings, not only at his home, but also at school.
“The teacher observed that I had a passion in drawing, and told my parents to help me exploring it. I remember that when I was on high school, I did drawing commission of my friends’ faces, using my own caricature style.”
“Unfortunately, my parents stopped supporting my drawing passion as I got older. When it comes to picking the major I was going to learn at university, they asked me to choose law, instead of the major that I want; visual communication design. They said that having career in art and design is not promising enough.“
Charlie went to the law school, but felt really overwhelmed and depressed by it. He decided to take two years break during the university year.
“At that time, it felt like I had no identity, and know nothing about myself. So I explored about punk music and joining a punk band. Then my little brother ̶ Michael ̶ graduated from high school. Anyway, this is my brother,” he showed me a picture of Michael.
“I was afraid that he would see me as a reason to not go to university. So I decided to get back to the law school, and finally got my bachelor degree. I tried to work at law firm, but I didn’t feel any passion in there. Although the salary was pretty good, I decided to quit.”
In those confusing days, Charlie met Kartika Jahja. His punk band was interviewed by Tika, who was working for VICE UK. That time, VICE were concerning about punk bands in Aceh (North Sumatra) which caught by the sharia police.
“I found that Tika has a really interesting character and personality, and decided to build a relationship with her until now. We had a deep conversation about my career, and Tika asked me about what I really want to do in life. It reminded me about my second year in high school, where a counseling teacher asked me the same question, and my answer was: be a tattoo artist.”
In 2004, Charlie used the tattoo machine for the first time. He keeps doing it until now because he finds it interesting to draw on human skin, as the surface characteristic is different from one part to the others.
At first, his parents didn’t agree about the idea of him being a tattoo artist at all, “I told them that this is what makes me happy. And if I’m happy, I can spread the happiness to the others, including them. There’s no point in doing things that what my parents want if it doesn’t bring us happiness.”
Although he doesn’t work in law firm anymore, Charlie and Tika used to help a victim of sexual assault to get justice. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the support they need, and the case is closed.
Now Charlie spends most of his time at his tattoo studio. The average amount of tattoo client that he handles in a week is only three. It’s because Charlie picks the client before doing the tattoo.
“Sometimes people asked me to do the tattoo design that has already been done by another tattoo artist, and I think it’s not good. For me, tattooing is not just about transferring the ink into client’s skin. It’s also about how we represented the designs in front of clients, without being patronizing. Clients has their own right to know about the tattoo artist’s point of view about the design, and vice versa.”
“Most of our clients are woman, and they are usually about to have their first tattoo. I’m so happy because most of the clients are very open in giving their opinion.”
Charlie said that hygiene is the thing that has to be maintained in his tattoo studio. It’s done by sweeping and mopping the floor using disinfectant every day, before, and after a tattoo session. The tattoo utensils are also rubbed with 90% alcohol, and he always throws the disposable kit away.
Beside his career as a tattoo artist, Charlie also has some experiences in art exhibitions such as Kelas Pagi Jakarta Angkatan 9, Kopi Keliling Volume 8, Pena Hitam Jakarta, and Pena Hitam Malang.
“I want my artwork to represent dark art, not just by using the skeleton, chain, and blood as the object. I don’t want them to be too literal, and restricted by some specific forms. I want it to be in my own style, which is defined by black and red colors, and specific engraving techniques.”
“Tika always helped me in my brainstorming session, because her ideas trigger mine to be more even brilliant. When I feel inspired, I can make so many drawings, like three days in a row. And when I get stuck, I will go for a walk, look at the flowers, watch movies, or read creepy dark stories on the internet.”
When I asked about how people in his living environment react about his tattoo studio, Charlie told me that everything’s fine as long as they respect each other, “And I don’t think a tattoo artist should always represent themselves in a creepy way. That’s really out of date.”
The warm and exciting conversation that we had that evening taught me pretty much about tattoo art. It changes my old opinion about how tattoo art always seems dark, creepy, and uncomfortable. Now, I even think about having my own tattoo someday……… which needs hundred and hundreds of deliberation also approval from my parents.
That conversation makes me think about; no matter what we do for living, and no matter how much we get paid from our job, what really matters is:
Are you happy with what you’re doing?
Are we really happy with it?