Meet Artist and Tattooer Léo Gavaggio
A few months ago, adidas Originals launched its new Parisian concept store. Located in the heart of Le Marais, the idea was to offer more than just a shop by making this new place a real creative hub for the whole Parisian artistic scene. All year, "the brand with three stripes" decided to give carte blanche to artists from all walks of life, letting them make this place their own while offering brand new experiences. Tattooist Léo Gavaggio, better known as Walter Hego, was invited to celebrate the launch of the ORIGINAL is never finished campaign and its EQT line. Even if tattooing remains his favorite way of expression, he chose to share his influences through illustrations and a series of works using anaglyphic techniques to show another side of his art. We took the opportunity to meet him to learn more about his background and to discover why he decided to open his own shop, and how rapper Snoop Dogg had an impact on his teenage years.
Hi Léo. First of all, for those who don't know you, can you introduce yourself?
My name is Léo, formerly known as Walter Hego, founder and associate of L’Encrerie.
How have you been introduced to the art of tattooing and why did you chose this particular way of expression instead of another?
I had small jobs here and there in Marseille where I lived for a while, working on the ferries leaving for Corsica and packing dry fruits—that was not easy. Then, with my childhood friend Inzi—who has always drawn as well–we decided to get two tattoo machines and we turned our home into a tattoo shop. Everything began there. We tattooed all of our friends and acquaintances, one after the other. And I just never stopped. I am a philosopher from time to time and I love sleeping in. This is where my life began.
You are the founder of L'Encrerie which is an unconventional tattoo shop. Can you tell us more about the beginning of this project and explain why you chose to open your own place?
Because I enjoyed this way of life, I felt that I had to build something that would allow me to share and relay this passion to talented people, to those who have not plunged yet or who do not have a place to express themselves and develop their art. I was very much into Art Nouveau and Art Deco and one day I had a crush for a small lovely boutique with wooden moldings. As soon as I got to Paris, I met up with Jey, a close friend who is passionate about developing new projects. He is some kind of mad scientist/visual artist… well, he is many things but also a lazy man. We decided to work together: he would be doing all the networking and I would take the crafts part. He was already well established in the French capital and he wanted to work on projects that have had a special meaning to him since his childhood. And I wanted to work with my hands and have the pleasure of sharing and meeting new people–that is my chatty, loving side as a guy from the South of France! We are a blend of passion and organization.
The tattoo world remains pretty conservative. How do other artists perceive your approach?
In this conservative tattoo world, I think there is a problem with the respect of people, but it is not because of some tunnel vision. Small shops where you can get any tattoo for 20 euros make me laugh. But it is not that funny if you get a tattoo there just to mimic Lil Wayne and the guy looks you in the eyes and says that it is a good choice because it is so you...haha...without having any tattoo himself but just because he can't wait to get his money. That said, every tattoo artist brings his own world and shares and gives the best of himself with a lot of love and fun.
Before you opened L'Encrerie, what had been your background?
Before L'Encrerie, I launched a clothing brand in Lyon with my ex-girlfriend Stéphanie Lambert, who is very talented. She was doing the fashion design (stitching and templates) and I was creating the visual identity with embroideries, etc. People at the town hall really took advantage of us by the way. They were supposed to help young designers but we ended up seeing our designs copied in Spain one year later... haha. When I got to Paris, I began to tattoo in the basement of an insurance company near Bourse [Hype Means Nothing], where friends of mine had found me a place perfectly-fitted for tattoo artists that featured a '70s plush carpet. Then, we found a nice flat near Crimée in the 19th arrondissement, from which I could see the Eiffel Tower, where I stayed for a while.
If I am not mistaken, you are not working at L'Encrerie by yourself. Can you talk a bit about the other people in your crew?
We met a bunch of great young passionate and independent people, and we all just stuck together, effortlessly, thanks to mutual affinities. Our place is called L'Encrerie, and the members are Favry, Dizzycali, Bellesetbuth, Maxlesquatt and Dlc4123. We have some naughtier stuff coming soon…
The line-up of artists you have tattooed is impressive! How did the shop become the place to stop-by for artists when they are in Paris and want to leave the city with a souvenir?
Paris is the capital city and we have a huge network so our talent just spread. But it is also friendship and word of mouth that helped a lot, from Eve to Smith & Wesson, Stalley, Mac Miler, Flatbush Zombies, Dom Kennedy, Murs, Fashawn, Krondon and even more. We marked them for life…
Tell us more about your last collaboration with adidas. How was the meeting and what make you want to work on this project?
Since I was young, adidas has always been a classic in the sneaker world–which I love. And, if I remember correctly, it was the first brand to collaborate with hip-hop artists, like the one with Run-D.M.C. that I still remember. Something that I enjoyed. So that is why I wanted to have my name associated with this cult brand.
Why did you feel the need to do things other than tattooing and to experiment another medium?
I have always considered drawing as the expression of my own reality, so experimentation through different mediums is inevitable. The more applications you master the more connections between different domains you can make. That is what leads you to creation.
In the videoclip, you talk about West Coast culture and its influences on your tattoo style. How has a rapper like Snoop Dogg influenced you?
I come from the South of France. Music and sun from the nineties California rocked my childhood, from Snoop to Suicidal Tendencies. Especially with their behaviors and the depiction of their own realities. It was "mind blowing" haha and I am so thankful for that.
What advice would you give to a kid wanting to start out as a tattoo artist?
I would tell him or her not to get into tattooing with a bag full of used needles in his hands!! In my opinion, advising is dangerous. Experiencing is personal. Live your own and you’ll get what you’ll get.
Words: Benjamin Benichou
Photography: Stephane Sby Malby
Check out the EQT exhibition until 16th February 2017 at Adidas Originals concept store, 3ter rue des Rosiers, 75004 Paris.