Paradox: Mandala Tattoos and the Meaning of Life

mandala, sacred geometry tattoo by paradox from the netherlands
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Paradox’s career as a graphic designer producing logotypes and business cards in a stuffy office is almost like a past life. What made him quit, was his unwillingness to continue working a 9 to 5 job.

Based in Enschede, Eastern Netherlands near the German border, Paradox attentively works with his clients, making tattoos that are spiritual and life-altering. A “mandala” is not a generic symbol, but one that evolves from a center—with energy, uniqueness, completeness, and unity. Paradox is all about the meaning of his creations, and you will see that in this interview. Tattooing has given him the freedom and connection he was looking for in life.

Above: Symmetry is a key element in Paradox’s skin art.
geometric arm tattoo by paradox, black ink
This Dutch tattooist uses both dot and line techniques.

You were a graffiti writer in the mid-90s. Did this influence at all your tattooing career?

It did! Graffiti has to look good from a distance. Most of the time, you look at a wall from a distance, so the letters must be big enough to read. So you think about that when making the design and give the piece a fat outline. I look at my tattoos in the same way: readable from a distance and still interesting from up close. Also, there is rebellion in both art forms. For me, it was a natural transition from graffiti to tattooing.

Enschede private tattoo studio of Paradox
Paradox’s private studio in Enschede, The Netherlands.

Why are you called “Paradox”?

I started tattooing around 2007 and used my graffiti name for tattooing. Over the years, my work slowly changed. You develop as a person, and so does your art. As you get older, you start to appreciate art forms you didn’t like before. I needed a name that resonated with my new identity as an artist. Like everything on this planet, letters and words hold particular energy. The name “Paradox” matches the energy of my work perfectly. There are also a lot of paradoxes in life and tattooing. The human body is perfect as it is; still, we try to make it look better. They say tattoos last forever, but life as a human is just a glimpse if you put things in perspective. You’re here for a minute; then you’re gone. Many of my clients think the same way and get unique tattoos despite what other people may think.

spiritual blackwork tattoo on back by paradox
The artist looks to transform the bodies of his clients.

Your work has a spiritual side to it.

I had a pretty crazy start in life as a kid, so this gave me a lot of questions about the meaning of life and my part. As a teenager, I started reading a lot of books about spirituality to discover who I was. It took me about 20 years of reading and reflecting to figure it all out [Laugh]. The way I see it, life is all about change. Day/night, life/death, seasons, emotions, it’s all about change. And so are tattoos. You transform your body, and this changes your sense of identity. It changes the way people see you and the way you see yourself. That’s why I like to make large-scale tattoos; they totally change the appearance of someone. From now on, the person gets recognized by their tattoos. It’s a new person, a new energy form. I love it! I like to implement mainly mandalas and symmetrical shapes, based on the knowledge I have gathered about spirituality and symbolism.

mandala tattoo, spiritual art by paradox
Mandalas are distinctive like fingerprints.

Please talk about mandalas.

I love Mandalas. When I draw a mandala, I am in the center; there is nothing else. I draw, put it away, come back and redraw. I take it in and adjust until its right. Some people see all mandalas the same, but you can look at two mandalas and get a different feeling. It’s like handwriting. You put something of yourself in it. You can tell a lot about an artist when you look at his work, and mandalas are no exception.

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Tatoo book
garuda back tattoo by paradox from the netherlands
The “Garuda” as a prominent piece for receiver.

The “Garuda” tattooed on your client’s back, and a “Parvati” statue in your office. What is the story and meaning behind each?

The “Garuda” was for a client who wanted a full back tattoo. We discussed several options and went for the “Garuda,” which is a common symbol for Indonesia, a country he recently visited. We did the tattoo in 3 sessions. The design took me about a full day.

“Parvati” is the Hindu goddess of beauty, love, harmony, and devotion. As well as strength and power. When I came across the statue at an antique dealer, I had to buy it. Although I don’t worship any man-made gods or figures, I like the look of them, and I collect books and objects for reference.

hip tattoo, black ink, mandala like by paradox NL
Black pigment is the preference of the artist due to its timeless quality.

You never repeat the same tattoo design for your clients. Please tell me about your creative process.

I get much freedom from my clients. They know my style and show me tattoos from my portfolio that they like and provide the direction they want. Most of my clients travel to me. When they arrive, I try to pick up their energy. I look at their body, listen to their story, and take it all in. I like to sketch on the skin and go from there. Sometimes they come with an idea and leave with something different. Many clients come for their first tattoo and want something unique and big. When the design is right, you know it.

blackwork tattoo on arm, geometric shapes, neo-tribal by paradox
All of Paradox’s family members had tattoos, and inspired him greatly.

In your words, “I like to make my tattoos bold…” Why is that?

Tattoos fade, so there has to be enough contrast and open space. I like details, but if you put too many in a tattoo, it won’t last long. It just isn’t the right medium for it. All the traditional tattoo styles are bold, and there is a reason for that. Bold will hold, and this applies to all styles. On top of that, a big, bold tattoo is readable from a distance, and that is something I want!

Apeldoorn, the netherlands
Enschede is the city where Paradox lives and works.

You are Dutch and living in The Netherlands. What are some of the fascinating things about your country?

I like traveling, but I always want to come back here. I love the seasons because we have it all. There is a lot of greenery, ocean, cold winters, and hot summers. We embrace all cultures and religions, and people are pretty open-minded. There is the freedom to be who you want to be. And we have pretty good tattooers too!

Tattoo Artist Paradox in private tattoo studio in the netherlands
Rarely sharing a picture of himself, this is an exclusive photo of the tattooist.

Life is not just about work. Share some stuff about your everyday life.

Family first! I spend a lot of time working but always try to keep things in balance. My wife always supported me in my work, so I am very lucky with that. And I try to be the best father I can be and give my son everything he needs, physically and emotionally. It’s a blessing to see him grow up so joyfully. Life is short, and I spend my time carefully. When I am not working, I spend it with the ones I love. Picking my son up from school, long walks with our dog, and all the usual stuff. I like to do a lot of running and working out, and I do most of the cooking. I love good food.

Photos © Paradox

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Adriana (aka The Tattoo Journalist) is a Webby Award-winning designer, editor of Scene360, and author of this book. Acquiring 20 years of writing experience in fine arts, Adriana has dedicated much time to documenting tattooists' lives and work. She also contributes to Tattoo Kulture, Inked, TattooLife, and other publications. Follow the author @ Instagram and view more articles.

August 4, 2020 Art Body Art Geometric Tattoo