Robert Hernandez

Interviewed by Bob Tyrrell, Nikko Hurtado, Carlos Torres, Roman Abrego, Estefano, and Tony Romel
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Tony Romel: For the first time, I am featuring an artist more than once. This is happening because the first magazine you were in sold out and not many people got the chance to read it. Ever since, I have been bombarded with so many emails from artists asking me to feature you again. I have no choice but to please my readers, I guess I would say you are back by popular demand. How do you feel about this, how do you feel about the many artists admiring and appreciating your work?

Hernandez: It is phenomenal to know that many people want to know about me. I don’t know what to say to that, but it is a pleasure and I feel so lucky.

Nikko Hurtado: After 20 years of tattooing and being a pioneer of your style what keeps you inspired, now that so many artists mimic you?

Hernandez: I believe that it is necessary to be honest with yourself and know what else you feel like you want to accomplish. Inspiration is a part of any artistic work, I find this everywhere. I think you should learn how to observe and find smallest details from which big ideas can arise.

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b>Bob Tyrrell: What planet are you from?

Hernandez: I’m from “Planet Hollywood,” I’m sure I’m from the same one as you Bob! Probably, we have gotten lost some place in space, drinking so much that we do not even remember where we come from.

Tony Romel: Haha, that’s a good one Bob. Do you get people asking you crazy questions? Besides Bob’s, what is the craziest question someone ever asked you?

Hernandez: I could tell you lots of them. There was once this girl insisting I tattoo a lighting bolt on her face down to her neck. I thought she was joking, I asked her if she wanted something graphic and simply like the style of make-up of David Bowie as Ziggy. But no, she had a different vision and told me she wanted a realistic beam with white and blue tones on a black background. It happens that months ago she got hit by lighting, entering her head, and coming out of her neck. I still didn’t get it, she was trying to convince me, saying she is a fan of my work and that I was her choice to do it. I thought it was a joke but she kept coming for a while. We all at the studio thought she was just crazy. Then I had a man, who wanted the portrait of the angel who resuscitated him, after he died in a traffic accident.

Roman: Did you have an apprenticeship? If so under who?

Hernandez: I started with Mao. He taught me basic skills of tattooing. I also learned how to prepare the material, to weld needles etc. I’m talking about the times when the internet did not exist and it was quite difficult to buy tattoo magazines.

Carlos Torres: Many of the new guys that see my artwork or Stefano’s don’t realize we only tattoo this well because of you, in some sort of way you are responsible for revolutionizing black and grey tattoos. How does it feel to know you are responsible for so many artists careers?

Hernandez: Thanks Carlos, I appreciate it. The truth is that this makes me feel proud and happy. When I first started tattooing and experimenting with my style, it didn’t go through my head that after a few years I would win so many followers. It is gratifying to know that I could influence many people, and to know some started tattooing after seeing my work.

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Stefano: Many Living legends in the world of tattooing had put their marks on their styles, one of them of course is you. It is obvious and inevitable that many of the new generation grab those styles and some make them better but not to your style. How it is that your work continues to be avant-garde and progressive?

Hernandez: Thank you, maybe it is because I improvise very much. The truth is when I start working, I have no idea how is going to end up looking. I usually improvise while at it, and add details, lines and whatever I see necessary, I follow my internal GPS. I always try to find something new and do my work in different ways, I don’t like my works to be obvious and arranged. I like to put some surrealistic, unexpected, dark or rare elements to all of my work and I keep learning every day.

Tony Romel: In these 20 years, I’m sure you have seen it and done it all. What are the freakiest, weirdest moments you’ve ever experienced through all these years?

Hernandez: There has been many, both in my personal and professional life. Sometimes when I see Mao, we speak about the things that happened in his shop. We always say, we have enough material for a book. I imagine any 15 year-old tattoo shops have to have some stories to tell. The freakiest was when a police officer, showed us photos of a tattooed body that was carved up and found in a garbage container. He was asking us if one of us recognize who he was. Then I remember, once a hysterical mother came, a religious fanatic, who brought hell to us for having destroyed the life of her son who had been tattooed in the shop. She jumped on the artist who tattooed the kid, who turned out to be a minor that forged his identity card.
Another instance was when we tattooed four deaf and mute people, they would not stop communicating to each other using their hands, and every time when we wanted to say do not move, you had to write it in a piece of paper. There are many stories, I have met all kinds of people. If you ask my friends, they will tell you I am a magnet for the freaks, it seems that I attract them. I have received a few letters from the people who wanted to analyze my profile, because of my drawings and tattoos. I also had some fans in jail who use to send me photos of their works, inspired by my tattoos.
One time there was this Italian guy, who wanted to tattoo the portrait of his fiancée. He then showed me photos of her vagina. I remember a blind man, who wanted a portrait of his son on his back. He brought his 12-year-old son, who during the session he was explaining how the progress of the tattoo was going.
Let’s see, the weirdest was probably the day that I received a call from Brad Pitt and Angelina’s bodyguard to tattoo them the day of Brad’s birthday. I went to the hotel in Madrid where they were staying with all their children, and spent approximately four hours with them. It was an unforgettable experience, they were very pleasant and Brad turned out to be a very funny guy.

More of this interview inside Tattoo Society Magazine back issue #36

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