Kanye's Favorite Tattoo Artist Wrote This Dark and Twisted Book
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because black is back.
By Eugene S. Robinson
“She comes up and she is smiling and says, ‘There’s someone to see you.’ ” The tall and mustachioed Jean-Luc Navette stands, smoking and raconteuring, in the aerie of his shop, Viva Dolor, in a coolish, almost-cul-de-sac in Lyon. Viva Dolor, which Navette describes as an art gallery and beauty service, is what the rest of the world would call a tattoo parlor, but Navette’s aspirations are grand.
“I tell her, ‘Tell him I’m busy.’ ” Navette smiles. He had been working on Dernier Été du Vieux Monde, his first book, when he peeked down and saw an African American moving between his shop ephemera. His girlfriend, younger and more dialed-in than Navette, wouldn’t let it go.
“That’s Kanye,” she said.
“Who?” Yeah. Navette breathes the rarefied air of someone absolutely not dialed into pop culture in the same way many in the West with eyes are. Still didn’t change the fact that he was busy. Kanye West had to wait before Navette had time to help him with a tattoo piece he wanted to get to memorialize the passing of his mother.
Navette’s book is a paean to his deep, deranged and deeply deranged dark line drawings.
And so it is that Navette’s book finally hit and has been working a number on our heads ever since. First published in 2012 and reissued last year by Les Éditions Noire Méduse, a small, indie French publisher, Navette’s book is a paean to his deep, deranged and deeply deranged dark line drawings. With tributes to bluesman Robert Johnson and his deals with cloven-hooved devils, and legends that read “Tales from the wrong side of town,” Navette’s carousel of cool is about the documentation of a worldview surprisingly grim for a guy who is so outwardly sunny himself.
“I love that blues aesthetic,” Navette says. “And that shit was dark. If you listened.” So while there are lots of different schools of tattoo styles — from Maori-influenced ones to California cholo cursive stuff — most of the flash (pre-existing tattoo work typically hung on walls or in binders on desks in parlors) are pictograms or cartoon variations. Navette’s stuff covers the walls in expensive frames. Fleshing out Viva Dolor are a barber chair, a motorcycle, stag heads and other gallery pieces that he’s collected.
“Maybe you need to be not American to have such a sharp eye for Americana,” says Lyon artist Fab Blank, at a café a few blocks from Viva Dolor.
Which is when it hits you that from his black crows, black shotguns and Appalachia angers to the fine-line scratching of handlebar-mustached men, rustic shacks and dead stags, Navette’s oeuvre is much more firmly fixed on a Southern Gothic history than the history of southern France.
“There is no music like this in the world,” Navette says about the blues that his band had been a tribute to, that is laced through his book and that plays in his shop, where a handful of artists are bent over their desks.
And from his T-shirts to the book, from his tattoos to “beauty service,” which involves a willingness to do his art where others fear to tread — we’ll spare you the tale of the anus tattoo he did on a renowned local masochist who had been kicked out of every other tattoo parlor he entered — Navette is not just a businessman. He’s a business, man. And stylistically, outside of Brussels-based fellow traveler Muzah Van Tricht, without peer.
“His book,” says Van Tricht, “is black beauty.”