Along the canal in Molenbeek, an inclusive artistic space, established in a former margarine factory, has been attracting creatives from all walks of life since it opened in December.
In particular, it has become a haven for travelling and emerging tattoo artists who all have their ateliers in the "L'Abeille Blanche," making the coworking and meeting hub not just a literal hive of creativity and expression but a second family home.
On the first floor, Boris Sandron – aka Pickle Head – runs a large tattoo parlour. Boris studied illustration and graphic design in Montpellier. Nine years ago, he moved to Brussels to start as a painter and then moved into tattooing. "I often tattoo drawings from my imagination," he says.
"People will then take ownership of them. These flash tattoos (small designs ready to be tattooed) remind them of a memory or simply make them laugh. Sometimes these drawings are quite silly with puns... Basically, it's not tattooing that takes itself very seriously," says Pickle Head, who also defines his style as "comics and cartoons".
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After four months of "L'Abeille Blanche", a dozen beginners or experienced tattoo artists have settled in the premises of this former factory.
Their creations are exhibited in books at the entrance of the building. Among these artists, there is also Audrey, a new tattoo artist taking her first steps in the business. "My tattoo artist name is 'Chrysantm," she says.
Audrey uses the technique of what is called 'dotwork' in the world of tattooing, what the art world recognises as 'pointillism'. She defines her style as "ornamental, floral and animal."
"I started in January, and it was a dream of mine for a long time," she says. "The tattoo allows you to express your opinions. It can also help people create an identity or accept a lived experience. I really like to be part of this process" says the 23-year-old tattoo artist.
Nathalie, who works under the alias of 'Flora Nera', is another tattoo artist who has found her home in the collective. She says she came late to tattooing. "I rediscovered the passion for drawing, one thing led to another, and I moved into tattooing... Being surrounded by these other tattoo artists and creatives is a great experience. We can exchange together within a family spirit. It's a good opportunity to grow."
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"L'Abeille Blanche" has aspirations of becoming an international hub for tattoo artists and creatives. Several French artists have already moved in along with an Argentinian who goes by his nickname Gatonero. He started tattooing six years ago. "I found tattooing provided me with a way to flourish professionally," Gatonero says. "It's a kind of way to sell my drawings more easily." The artist takes his inspiration from medieval and Japanese art.
The "L'Abeille Blanche" Project started from the experiences of some members of the LGBTQ+ community with the world of tattooing. "Often we are very badly received, especially those people at the beginning of the transition," says Marcus, one of the co-creators of the concept.
Marcus, himself a tattoo artist, was indeed confronted with bigotry from other professionals when he lived and worked in Switzerland. He decided to pack his bags and move them to Brussels, attracted by the city's LGBT+ friendly reputation. "We wanted to create a place where everyone feels good and create a family spirit."