Thomas Burkhardt: Berlin’s Most Gentle “Black Worker”

Thomas Burkhardt is a Berlin born tattoo artist that works in only one ink: black. Despite his somber color choice, he is one of the most warm hearted and easy to talk to guys in the city.

Three years ago I met an artist named Thomas Burkhardt in Berlin. It was at a vegan donut shop called Brammibal’s on Maybachufer street: colorful, quaint and welcoming. A well-known tattoo artist and fellow friend of mine Barbe Rousse had set up the meeting, for which I am eternally grateful.

On the outside, Thomas is bespeckled with colorless ink that to the more conservative of us, may make us feel wary. But this is the problem with prejudice because on the inside Thomas is one of the sweetest and most soft spoken gentleman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. I consider it an honor to wear his artwork on my body.

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

One of the peculiarities about Thomas is that he is what’s called in the tattoo world a “black worker.” Where most tattoos are blue with the possibility of red, purple, orange ink, etc., the only shade of ink you’ll find in Thomas’s office is black. Despite this somber hue Thomas’s office reflects not the color of his ink, but the beauty of his soul. Like him it is warm, inviting and always conducive to a memorable conversation.

Thomas works in Erntezeit Tattoowierungen in Berlin but you can also find him in Old Tattoo Habits in London, or Papanos Tattoos in Den Haag.

Can you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Thomas Burkhardt. I’m a tattooer mainly but I’d define myself more as an artist of life. What I enjoy is creativity, it doesn’t matter the medium. Tattooing was simply the first passion I found to have a real impact on who I am. It felt right. Right now I’m living in Berlin and working at Erntezeit Tattoowierungen in Prenzlauer Berg.

What is your vision of Tattoos?

I mostly just try to have fun with my tattoos. There’s nothing as good as being able to translate something inside my head into art, and especially onto another human being.

I also want people to realize that if they work together, instead of being rivals, it’s going to help everyone.

It’s different for everyone I think. If someone wants to do custom tattoos and does it with passion, I love it. If you’re working in a street shop and you ink people with tribals and flowers and dolphins all day, and you’re happy about it, and do it with passion, I love that as well. As you can see, I don’t care really what you’re doing, as long as you’re putting part of yourself into the work, that’s what I think a tattoo should be. A part of yourself.

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

I also want people to realize that if they work together, instead of being rivals, it’s going to help everyone. If you put your passion first, the money will come by itself. I’ve seen what this rivalry does, this putting the money first, all over the world, and it’s no good for anyone. It seems like tattooing is losing that passion, and I’d like to see it get back to that.

How did you end up tattooing people?

I didn’t look to go tattooing people. Tattooing found me-as corny as that sounds. The first time I was really intrigued by it was when I was really young, when me and my mom were watching documentaries about indigenous societies around the world.

When society was looking for conformity, I wanted to look different

I saw those tribes decorate themselves, with beautiful dresses, and elegant makeup and body-mods: piercings, scarification, and finally, tattoos. It blew my mind. It was their way of saying that they belonged to somewhere and I thought that was beautiful. But everywhere around me, people here, in the western world, were looking down on it. But I felt way more connected to that kind of life.

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

As I got older, I started to get a bit more rebellious. Punk and Metal started to infuse my life. Long story short, I started to hate how life was represented in our culture. So superficial, so privileged, so fake. Tattooing for me was like a symbol of people who had a different mindset. When society was looking for conformity, I wanted to look different. The power felt intoxicating. The power to separate from the standard and to merge with another group of people. So that’s when I started tattooing.

Who are the artists that are inspiring you today?

I’ve been going to a lot of museums and galleries lately. A lot of concerts too. But I’ll tell you about the last exhibit that had a big impact on me. I went to an exhibition at the Albertina in Vienna. It was all about expressionism, impressionism and surrealism. I saw a lot of the original classics from those periods. (Don’t ask me names, there were so many, I’d have to look them up.)

Exploring to explore, expressing for yourself and not because you want to please anyone or make money

At the end of the exhibition though, there were two rooms devoted all to Picasso. And that was really something. They showed the progression of his art: the different eras of his creative outbursts, and I was able to see his emotional progression (maybe regression for others), but for me, something I could really visually relate to. The urge to break loose. To feel. Creating for the sake of creation. Exploring to explore, expressing for yourself and not because you want to please anyone or make money. It really spoke to me. It touched me.

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

One person that I’ve been seeing a lot of lately is Michele Servadio.Aside from him being a long-time friend of mine, I really look up to him as an artist and individual. He’s definitely someone you should look up if you have never heard of him. And fuck it, while we’re in the mode of giving shout-outs, I’d also mention Kalo, Louis Montgomery and Joe Chatt. These dudes are like brothers to me, and everyday I’m so inspired by their work ethic, aside from loving them as human beings.

Otherwise, it’s music, movies and cooking which has been inspiring me the most lately. Oh, right, and a long-term obsession with Japanese art.

What is your rapport with Berlin? Why is this city different and why do you stay here?

This is the city I was born in, so I think my relationship is different than most people who come here to express their creativity. I got my family here and this city feels like it’s a part of me. It’s made up of so many different components, scenes, and cultures which make this big coherent whole that I love to explore and drive around. I love the weekly markets run and inspired mostly by near east people, and the bio markets with its posh clientele and the clubs where people are getting fucked up all the time and the park-life and the young parents pushing their kids in strollers and the old people who have been in Berlin all their lives.

Berlin is so many different things. A city of the yin and yang, of opportunity and despair

Berlin is so many different things. There are so many opposite things and you can find almost anything in so many calibers and the only filter is your preference. Berlin also, to me, still feels like it’s the bridge between the eastern and western world, and I love that. A city of the yin and yang, of opportunity and despair.

Thomas Burkhardt by Adlan-Mansri

© Adlan Mansri/HEREYOUARE

It’s a crazy place, just as crazy as life, even though life isn’t that crazy, it all somehow makes sense on the broader spectrum. It’s a very life-like city, that’s why I like and dislike it here.

Do you have any projects besides tattooing you’re working on?

Yep. One project, which is finally outgrowing its baby shoes is my instant-photo-project called Blinkofdecadence. It definitely needs some more love and cares at the moment; I got a scattered mind most of the time. Lots of ambitions, not enough confidence. I’m working on it though, so keep your eyes peeled. I’m in love with visuals, acoustic and culinary arts at the moment, so even I’m interested to see where all of this will go.

Follow @ThomasBurkhardt on Instagram

This article has been edited for clarity and conciseness

Adlan Mansri is a young Berlin based photographer. Through his lenses, he brings his sight of the world and the humans he meets with a reporter's eye.
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