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Discovering Martino aka “Cayo Kun”, a brilliant New School tattoo artist for whom Graffiti was salvation and Tattoo Art represents a whole universe.
It is inevitable that I ask you about your stage name, “Cayo Kun”: why did you choose it and what does it represent for you?
My name simply chose me. I’ll explain better – since I was a little kid I had a monkey toy always with me (and he is still at my parents house). We were inseparable friends and when I grew up I started to get into the Manga wave of the 80’s – I mean the serious ones! (laughs) – especially “Kaibutzukun” aka “The Prince of Monsters”, then to Goku in particular to the very funny character “King Cayo”. Now you say what does the monkey have to do with it? Well, Goku is half man/half monkey, Carletto turns into a monkey when he is angry and is called “Kaibuzu Kun”…
Please, go ahead.
Growing up Graffiti marked me and saved me. I’m from the northern suburbs of Naples and Graffiti really changed my life, making me moving away from certain circles and making me approach the street life (but only that made of skate and tattoo). It was at that time I chose “Cayo” as a Tag.
Later when I started traveling (thanks to the world of tattooing which gave me a way to travel and meet many people) I learned that Roman Julius Caesar was called “Caius” basically while he was moving to conquer foreign lands. Ok, I’m moving out of hunger for knowledge of other cultures, but it seemed too megalomaniac a pairing (laughs)! So I juxtaposed “Kun” which means “learner”, the one who is learning and here I am – half man/half monkey.
I mean my inseparable “friend” and “Kun”, the child in me who doesn’t want to grow up and stop learning.
I could ask you about your influences and how you started approaching tattoo art, but I think in your case it all comes down to an unconditional love of Art, Art in all its forms. Am I right?
Ever since I approached Graffiti, I always drew. I don’t remember the day I started, because I always had pencils and crayons in my hands; and I was always in competition with my father, a painter too, my first source of inspiration. Since I was a child I always saw tattoos as something “special”. Something for which people saw you in different ways depending on what you would tattoo and why you did it.
What else do you remember from those formative years?
In my neighborhood there were those who tattooed the spots of bad life and those who tattooed to remember and not to forget. At that time tattooists didn’t draw and I thought «Well, Imagine if one day Graffiti with all those colors could be turned into tattoos…».
So I got my first tattoo at the age of 15 – a piece that talked about Hip Hop and Graffiti, something really new.
Tell me now about your artistic beginnings…
After a long time at the age of 28 years old, all of a sudden, I left my job starting as an apprentice at ‘Micromutazioni’, a famous tattoo studio in Naples. I was drawing tattoos with the Californian influences of Skate and Surf and pioneers like Grime and Joe Capobianco, without ever losing my love for Japanese designers like Miyazaki and with an immense respect for Italian Renassence.
I mean the forms of Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti to the magic of lights of Caravaggio and Monet, studying the flow that only those who tattoo the Japanese style can do etc. Then I began to know Filip Leu and Tin Tin through books. Books were really important, you know?
When I saw for the first time Jee Sayalero’s tattoos, the ones of Jesse Smith, Logan, Dimitri and StephD I knew what I wanted to tattoo.
If I had lived so far in a cave and had never seen a single tattoo of yours, how would you describe your style to me?
Mine is the style of those who spend their nights on their desks drawing or reading books in search of an inspiration, which comes sometimes after long hours and sometimes after a simple moment. I would call my style of those who cannot pretend to be able to do, but must by necessity draw and evolve. We, the so-called “Newschoolers”, have no reference characters. We can draw anything we like and this leads us to have no limits. I think that enclosing artists or tattoo artists in a simple category can be limiting. I would prefer that people through my drawings recognize my person or simply “Cayo”.
“Psychedelic/surreal comics” with influences that start from Manga cross the West and go all the way to Dali (certain liquefied details popping out of your works) – do you like that as my definition?
As I said before, categories such as “surreal” and “comics” can be limiting, in case the client or the person who approaches my works, is immersed by categories such as comics, cartoon, Manga, Newschool, Graffiti style, then everything starts to lose a sense. So as a category, “Newschool” can suffice, but if I could I would simply call myself a Draftsman.
Tell me in detail about your two studios in Naples and Zurich and how you alternate between these two locations?
The studio in Naples is called ‘South Ink Tattoo’ (IG: @southinktattooshop) and includes Fabio Gargiulo, Fabio Bellopede, Martino di Schiavi, me and the legendary apprentice Luca. We are like a family, a bond created over time. We live in a place where you can talk and breathe tattoo and the many hours of drawing behind each project. This place is a location where tattooing is a serious thing but where bulls**t and laughter always find space.
And the Zurich one… ?
The studio in Zurich is called ‘Dream Art Tattoo’ (IG: @dreamart_tattoo_) and is a small room where guys united by the same passion try to establish themselves with Tattoo Art designed in this part of the world where it seems that only the Realistic and Black Work Fine Line has space. Let’s say it is my current bet, without hiding that I created a page called “Monster Ink Tattoo” that aims to give light and space to Custom tattoo, wary of imitations, and that from September 2023 will start to work. Who knows maybe one day it will be my own tattoo studio…
How did the idea of expanding to Switzerland come about after your work experience in Naples?
After returning from Australia I lived in Naples for a while where I had the opportunity to work with artists like Ivano Natale, Riccardo Cassese and Skor who really marked and changed me. But after Australia and that desire to live in a city far away from the comfort zone never left me, and so the opportunity of Switzerland came forward, where I already had a friend called Nico Grind. Since I was guesting all over Italy, I simply stretched a little more. But now, after 3 years that I’m permanent here, I can say that in Zurich I feel like at home.
I love Zurich and this is where I want to build my future.
Do you have long waiting lists, both for Naples and Zurich, or is it relatively easy to make an appointment with you?
The waiting list varies, also because with experience I’ve realised that it’s always better to keep spaces to put in projects that you can devote more time to. So the lists vary from 1 month to 2 in Zurich and it’s the same for Naples considering that I guest at ‘South Ink Tattoo’ every 2/3 months.
Shall we say goodbye with an aphorism of yours that can encapsulate in total your philosophy as both artist and tattoo artist?
“But fate… from a random emotion, gives birth to great metamorphoses”. It’s obviously Julius Caesar’s and is taken from his book ‘De Bello Civili’.