MIXED MEDIUM: MAXIME BUCHI

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For this edition of Mixed Medium, OAK’s own Cameron Cooper sits down with his friend and artist Maxime Buchi, a true Renaissance man of subculture, who he met some time ago on the streets of Brooklyn through mutual friend Zana Bayne. Incorporating tattoo, bondage, and fashion (among other subjects) in his work – which includes the highly revered publication Sang Bleu – Buchi has given a platform to artists and friends from around the world, who together have created a community that has become a unique culture in and of itself. Cameron was able to catch up with Maxime – who now calls London home – while he was in New York late last month for a conversation that takes us inside this visionary artist’s world. During their conversation, Maxime was stopped by passers-by who he had tattooed in the past, and a young boy who asked if his sprawling tattoos hurt (Maxime’s answer was that they did not).

CAMERON COOPER: Where are you from?
MAXIME BUCHI: I was born and grew up in Switzerland, not to be confused with Sweden as people sometimes do. It’s a different culture. Often I tell people I’m form Switzerland and they say “Oh, I know some people from Sweden!” No, it’s a different place. Alike, but different. I left Switzerland after I went to art college when I was 25, then I moved to Paris, and then I moved to London.

CC: Where you currently live.
MB: Yes.

CC: What did you study in art school?
MB: I mainly studied graphic design and typography, with a specific focus in type design.

CC: How did your move to Paris influence your interests, career and involvement in art?
MB: Good question. There are several answers. Moving to Paris was not really the cause, but more the consequence of a desire that I had to expand. When I finished art school, and I always had interest for fine art, and also fashion, and I had been getting tattooed while I was studying, so when I finished art school, I started teaching and moved to Zurich to be a graphic designer, but I felt frustrated. [I was] working non-stop, and I was feeling hungry for a broader perspective on what I was doing. I was in media, but I realized I was more interested in the content than in the media itself. I had the perspective on both, and I wanted to move abroad. I was put in touch with an agency called Work In Progress, the agency that publishes the fashion magazine Self Service. I heard they were looking for a graphic designer and I applied, and they took me.

I hated that stay in Paris to be honest, for all kind of reasons. It was new and it was difficult being abroad for the first time. [However] down the line, it was a good thing as well. I am thankful for the opportunity to work there. It very quickly opened my eyes. That kind of culture of fashion and luxury was something I wanted to start getting involved in. I was not very compatible with Paris itself as a city so [when] I got an opportunity to move to London, [where] I had already visited friends, that was the real beginning for me [in terms of] finally understanding where I was fitting in the world as an adult, professionally and personally. For me, the main revelation was when I moved to London, but Paris was definitely the first step towards that.

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CC: Did you decide then, that working as a graphic designer for an agency, was not what you really wanted to do?
MB: It was growing on me – the impression and conviction that I was not really made to be a graphic designer. I love producing graphic design, but I’m not good at functioning professionally as a graphic designer. I get impatient quickly, and I’m not good at negotiating and compromising with clients. I think to be a good graphic designer you have to be willing to do [those things]. When I moved to London I started working for a full on branding agency, and I could already feel that was not really my thing. But I didn’t mind because it was an opportunity to settle in London. As soon as I arrived, I started looking for opportunities to go back to working in fashion. I worked for Arena Homme + at some point, and I started getting involved in independent fashion magazines. London was the mecca for that. Fantastic Man had just started, [and] even before that there was The Face. The magazine format was something I could understand and produce, and as a graphic designer I was interested in the form and shape of magazine. Getting involved in that scene in London was very important. Then I started Sang Bleu. Lodnon [for me] was a rebirth.

CC: What would you say was the direction and vision behind Sang Bleu? I perceived it as a mixture between tattoo, culture, fashion and photography. Was there one vision? Or did it become its own thing?
MB: It started organically, but in a coherent way. I was putting together a lot of my interests that were coherent, but I wasn’t sure how they were coherent. I wasn’t sure what the crossing point was [of these interests], but I had a feeling that they had one because I was interested in them myself, and I feel like I’m a pretty coherent person with a strong taste. I randomly put things together and made them work formally. I was able to use my graphic design skills to put them together in a way that they made sense. The aesthetic started re-inforcing the things I liked, [for example] tattoo, fetish, fashion, fine art, science, and philosophy. There’s a point where they all cross, and I started to understand it. Then I started digging deeper in that area.

CC: You then uncover another subject that was all-inclusive. Oh, it should involve this, let’s capture this, let’s talk about this…
MB: I never questioned Sang Bleu‘s continuation because I very quickly had so much support, and people got involved and loved the idea and the world I was building. It quickly became something that was bigger than me [and] it wasn’t really my thing anymore. The people who were buying and following and supporting became a big family to the point that it was clear that I owed these people to continue because it meant something to them. It was amazing for me because very quickly it became a thing of its own. The other people brought their vision, and it was the most amazing experience I’ve ever had in my life. At some point, I came to do things I wouldn’t come up with spontaneously but it made sense through other people’s inspiration and ideas. It was a community.

CC: Sounds amazing. I never looked at it that way. You just wrapped your final print issue of Sang Bleu. What type of projects are working on now?
MB: We’re wrapping up with the paper magazine, for two simple reasons: first of all, I have been more and more involved in producing things. I was not really on the production side [of Sang Bleu when I started]. As my life evolved, I became a tattoo artist myself, now I’m collaborating on fashion projects, etc. So now I’m more and more involved in the production side. Sang Bleu will continue as a website and community, and I have people helping me make sure those things continue. I started another magazine in the meantime, Novembre which is like an offspring of Sang Bleu and it’s doing great. The other reason [we stopped printing the paper edition of Sang Blue] is that it’s problematic to sustain financially. When I started, people were still reading paper magazines as a major source of information.

CC: Which is what I was going to get to – the big declaration is “Print is dead.”
MB: Yeah. Well, it’s not completely dead but [a lot has] shifted to digital. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t want Sang Bleu to become a precious paper magazine. I don’t even read paper magazines myself. I’m interested in doing things I understand. For me, we’re now working really hard on digital and on the websites and tumblr. We’re shifting towards that. And there are other projects too. Felix Burrichter, the publisher of Pin Up magazine, is putting together a big exhibition on magazines at the Haus der Kunst in Munich for 15 or 10 important magazines of the last decade or so, and we’ve been invited to present Sang Bleu. I’m very honored and happy and excited. Damir Doma, tattoo artists, and visual artists are all contributing.

CC: So you’re saying for your contribution it will be sort of a Sang Bleu instillation with fashion, art and tattoo?
MB: Exactly. We’re focusing on those types of things. I’m starting a fine art project as well. Overall it’s a very logical continuation. The essence of Sang Bleu is continuing. The only real mission for me is relevance. I want to produce something that is relevant. I want to produce something that the Sang Bleu audience can identify with. That was the most important thing. I was telling you earlier I’m working on a specifically bondage orientated issue of Sang Bleu. It’s just taking time to rethink.

CC: A lot of people see fashion magazines becoming more specialized art magazines.  It won’t be about monthly or seasonally, but will just come out when they do.
MB: You know, the last issue of Sang Bleu sold the most copies ever, but we didn’t distribute it at all, [we] only [had] pre-orders. Now there’s a little bit of distribution, but almost nothing. I printed the amount that were ordered. People had to pay up front. Imagine how amazing that is. The only place you can still order it from is Collette. Otherwise it’s all us.

CC: Very grassroots.
MB: Exactly. It’s perfcet. There’s no pressure. People will switch. People today are no longer focused on one type of media. People now are used to bouncing between different social media platforms.

CC: On the fashion side of it, how do you feel with the current state of fashion, as a business, as an art form? Because you’ve supported designers and know so many designers.
MB: I think fashion in many respects is undergoing a shift of the audience. What I find interesting in fashion is that it used to be coherent group of people switching from one style to another season to season, but now it’s like all these different trends running parallel to each other, and the attention of the public is in-between these styles. Now, a designer with a very specific style can survive in between times when they’re trendy. They can survive until they blow up again. All these things can function in parallel as opposed to everyone working on one style. This applies to graphic design, fine arts, etc. My understanding of fashion is from a purely artistic level, but as you said, I know a lot of people [in the fashion industry] personally. I’m even more interested in the backstage element of it. Why does a certain designer work in a certain direction? Growing up I didn’t know what fashion was, but I was interested in the way people dressed. Meeting Jason Ferrer was a big revelation for me because he mixed high end with street-wear. Seeing what Rick Owens was doing, and meeting people who came from a different cultural background and moved onto high fashion [inspired me]. Later on, Riccardo Tisci [put all] these influences together, and he’s probably the person who took that [method] the farthest. I [witnessed] menswear’s successful maturity and transition to mainstream audiences [the same way] that womenswear did a while ago, and it’s very exciting to me. Sang Bleu started as a niche thing, but nowadays every other person into fashion gets tattooed, and bondage is incorporated a lot of places, and Sang Bleu started right before that. And it makes me immensely happy to see it everywhere now, because that’s who I am. Back then it was always “You are this, or you are that…”

CC: It was very compartmentalized.
MB: Exactly. And I felt very frustrated by that and alienated. Now I feel like I can go to Fashion Week and dress the way I want, and people won’t even pay attention.

CC: They won’t bat an eye.
MB: Yeah. Or they’ll think it’s really cool. It’s great.

CC: Do you think tattoos and fashion go hand in hand? Do you think tattoos are more trendy, or more fashionable?
MB: Well the difference is fashion is always trying to renew itself very quickly, but tattoos are more permanent. They don’t go hand in hand in that respect. BUT fashion is ultimately a craft. Fashion designers are almost contrary to artists. Artists seclude themselves, and are surrounded by people just like them, and they build their own world, and that’s the strength of fine art. Fashion designers have to go out and feel the time they live and and find out what people want. The best fashion designers that want the answer that provides to a demand can think forward to anticipate the demand. But if you’re too innovative and don’t provide to the [current] need, then people won’t buy [your product] and you won’t have any impact. Tattooing is trendy, but compared to maybe in the 1960s when women started cutting their hair and wearing trousers, it was a big deal. Nowadays you would never say that it’s a trend, [but rather] an option. Tattooing is the same. It’s becoming an option. It’s not a taboo anymore. It still has a bit of that slight evil taste, but in reality it’s something that’s becoming accepted. There’s an underlying evolution of society, and then there are trends. Fashion addressing this balance is just common sense. It’s what is going on. It’s like when there is a war going on, you can see that [in fashion]. [There is] more camouflage, and army inspired stuff in collections. Fashion designers react to what’s going to society.

I wanted to point out one thing I find interesting – a turning point for me – I started a company in which we design logos and typefaces. I’ve done things for Damir Doma, Rick Owens, Balenciaga, and at some point I got hired to work on the branding of Mugler when Nicola Formicetti was hired to relaunch the brand. Nicola got in touch and I got to work on the identity and art direction of the campagin. What I found interesting, more than just the design, was that the campaign Nicola produced for Mugler was very Sang Bleu – he used that Rico guy (Rick Genest) – and by hiring me I took it as a license to use Sang Bleu aesthetic. [Nicola is] a smart and respectful person. He’s someone who really understands [the Sang Bleu aesthetic]. For me that was a turning point, because now it was okay for a major fashion brand to use that type of aesthetic in a fully corporate context. At that point, it meant that I took something I was part of for a long time from the underground to being globally accepted.

CC: Yes, catapulted into the mainstream
MB: For me it got the point where it no longer was just mine anymore. It got to that level – that was a sign for me to move on and evolve, because it was not up to me to work on those styles anymore. They didn’t need me anymore. That was a turning point for me. Im still very thankful to Nicola for that.

CC: That just goes to show that it’s more about options now. It’s not trend. With tattooing, briefly, how did you get started?
MB: A few different things came together. Tattoos have always been fascinating to me. As a kid I always thought it was amazing. I loved drawing as a kid. The people [I saw as a kid] with tattoos were intriguing, weird, and singers that I liked. [Tattoos were] always associated with a population I was interested in. I was a graffiti artist, always into drawing. For me tattooing had that transgression value I was always interested in. In my early 20s I started getting tattooed on my back, and arms. [They were] big tattoos. At some point [in] art school I mentioned to my tattoo artist Phillip that I wanted to learn, and he took me as an apprentice. It stuck in my head from that day onwards that I could be a tattoo artist. Phillip told me to finish my studies and if I still wanted to do it, to go for it. The idea was still there after [I graduated]. I called him a few years later, told him I still wanted to do it. And he told me to come back to Switzerland and he took me as an apprentice. I was in my mid-20s. Between 27 and 29 I was an apprentice. I’ve been an artist for about 4 years now.

CC: How many tattoos have you done?
MB: Two or three thousand maybe?

CC: Is there any body part you wouldn’t tattoo?
MB: No.

CC: Who is your ideal tattoo client?
MB: It always has to be a collaboration. I don’t tattoo things people just come [in] with. I have a specific style. I’m not good at reproducing things. My favorite customer would be someone very dedicated, someone who understands what tattoo is, someone willing to be inspired [and who can inspire] me, something that I love working on, but leaves me enough freedom to expand on the starting point, someone who is committed enough and daring enough to really go for it, someone who can come with a simple idea, but is willing to expand on it and do it. I do my best work on those type of people because it makes me want to push myself and do the best I can for them. It’s an honor for me. I love the result. I love something that’s striking, something that people might have a hard time learning to live with, but [something that] will change their identity. That’s what I like about tattoos. I like tattoos to be a new stone to the building of your identity. That’s the way I got tattooed, so that’s what speaks to me the most.

CC: It’s still the taboo of “will I like it in 10 years?” or “will I have regrets?” but the other side is just jumping in and going for it. So your take on enhancing themselves is really intriguing to me. I think it’s something a lot of people don’t think about when it comes to tattoos.
MB: Fair enough. Every person who wants a tattoo should find the right person. Some people are very good at creating little tattoos that people will be happy to look at every day without it being to challenging or bugging them, but I like the challenge. The moment where it’s like “wow.” I want to do the radical things. No matter how much money is on the table, it will never be the same as someone coming to me and saying, “I’ll give you the power, honor and responsibility of changing who I am, and redefining myself, or augmenting myself with such a radical thing.” I take that more seriously than anything else. I love to feel that and work on that challenge.

CC: Wow! Amazing. We’re winding down, but do you feel that it’s an ongoing process, and you’re always improving your craft, and that there’s always something new you can learn?
MB: Absolutely, but people will always need [to do] new things. You have to keep up with your time. You might not always be able to do it yourself. Maybe you get older, grow tired or whatever. At some point I’m ready to accept one day that I might just change professions again, if I find I’m not able to produce something i’m happy with.

CC: Last question. What are your plans for the summer?
MB: I’ll be traveling a bit until September. I’ll be taking some holidays I think I quite well deserve. I’ll be back home in Switzerland with my family, hanging out. I’ll try to spend some time in London with my flatmates. I want to see friends in Berlin. Maybe some work [will be] involved, but I want to enjoy the summer too. I’m opening my own studio in London in September or October, so there’s a lot of work to do after the summer.


Maxime wears the OAK asymmetrical hem tank, and OAK gusset shorts.
photographs by Justin Fulton

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