Felipe Buigues: drawing, tattooing and surfing the streets of Paris

In Interview, Paris by Claire

Felipe Buigues lives in Paris as an architect-turned-courier-turned-tattoo-artist. Paris is where he learned, developed, changed and feels belonging. The COURIIER messengers first spotted Felipe’s drawings when he was riding for them and immediately gave him a tattoo machine and skin. Now his art’s no longer stuck in his book, but often riding around the world too. For Felipe, Paris is a city of beauty, imperfection, fragility, full of little details, and his art follows that. It’s a place to feel the flow of surfing in tiny tight streets, even when you’re far away from the sea of Argentina. It’s home now.

How did you get into cycling?

When I was studying architecture in Buenos Aires I had a professor that would be like: ‘if you’re one minute late I’ll put absent and if you get six absents then you’re missing out the whole year.’ Basically I woke up late on day and took a bike to go to college instead of two busses and realised it took a third of the time with a shitty bike. I was like that’s alright.

I got into fixed gear and then got into brakeless track bike riding because it’s like surfing. There’s like this second force that drags you. It’s like riding a wave, but riding a crankset. That kind of flow, between the traffic or just reading whatever’s next to you instead of going in a bike lane seemed much more fun. I just liked to move in the city.

When I came to Paris for a year I didn’t want to work in an office like I was doing in Argentina. I figured I could text some bike messengers from here, they seemed pretty cool. They were like ‘for sure you can work here, I don’t care if you don’t speak French, it’s all good.’

”It’s like surfing. It’s like riding a wave, but riding a crankset.”

So I started super from the bottom, learning small phrases one at a time and repeating them while riding between jobs. I got really into being a courier because there’s that b-side of the job that’s not just riding, there’s little things that save you time. That was my favourite; optimising every second I could off the bike. I guess the best messengers are not necessarily the ones that ride faster.

And that led you into tattooing?

I started tattooing because of the bike messengers. They used to do these flash tattoo nights. As I was drawing in like between jobs I’d be drawing and they would all see my drawings and be like ‘this is cool.’ Once on a tattoo night they asked me to do some drawings for someone else to tattoo, and I ended up tattooing them myself, without knowing how to. My boss, Fuego, gives me a machine and says ‘You gotta learn.’ So I started tattooing right away. It was super fun.

Then, as the bike couriers didn’t give a fuck, they’d be like ‘ah you just started tattooing? I’ll exchange a tattoo for a couple of beers, or I’ll pay you lunch. Tattoo me tonight after work.’ It would be all sweaty in the office after everyone’s finished with their jobs. We’d take the tables and pretty much try to make up a tattoo spot. I just started tattooing in the first floor of COURIIER.

Then it’s fun because the CMWC arrives to Paris a couple of months later. I’d just become a bike messenger and I’m becoming a ‘tattoo artist’ at the same time, and now there’s all these people arriving. I’m full tattooing all day – four or five, one next to each other, just training and training.

So you got the hang of tattooing pretty quickly.

Yeah it was fun. I wasn’t even tattooed. I wasn’t expecting it at all. All of a sudden I had all these people wanting my drawings on them.

My relationship with cycling comes from there. All that attitude of the people. I guess cyclists and tattooists are pretty much related. I know there’s a bunch of guys doing tattoos who are bike messengers and cyclists, or even that there’s a lot of cyclists who are full of tattoos. They all crave this culture of flash tattoos and whatever – a fucking pair of tits on their legs, tattoos done by themselves after a ride, whatever.

That’s my relationship with it. Not so much riding now I’m doing my job for myself. At the same time, it’s nice to keep it because now I ride to Paris and there’s all my courier friends that are still the best and they’ll lend me bikes for me to move in Paris – even the cargo ones. Last night we were partying as well in this classic sort of messenger karaoke Chinese thing. It’s fun to see them together. I try not to lose that contact even when I’m on the bike. It’s fun.

Everything seems to be pretty balanced for me when you’re cycling. It’s such a nice thing. It’s you and yourself, you’re aware of your own time and moves. I find that most of the interesting people I meet also cycle as well.

Do you feel like a tattoo artist now? You used special air quotes when you said ‘tattoo artist.’

No, it’s super awkward to say it every time like, ‘I’m a tattoo artist’ even though I live out of it and people consider me as one. I still see myself as kid trying to experiment as things.

I’m an architect – I finished my studies and worked as an architect for three years. It’s six years of studying and I did it in six years straight – all together nonstop. I did pretty good and worked in very nice architecture offices, the ones I looked up to. For now I stopped because I’m exploring other ways to express myself, but I’m going to go back.

For me, tattooing is not my life. It’s pretty much just a way of putting in a canvas whatever I create – it’s a way of taking it out. See this [gestures to book] and then you see it there [points to arm]. When it’s stuck in here [taps book] then it gets stuck. I like it when it goes out. It something that comes from me, 100%. It’s not like working for anyone. It’s being independent.

Being a bike courier is being independent as well. I guess that’s pretty linked up. I’d like to work a bit as a bike messenger again. It’d be nice to do a couple of days, just riding some and training your brain, move your legs a bit.

As I’m travelling all the time, tattooing is pretty good. I feel like I needed to keep going with this and the flow – take advantage of it and eventually master it  more, being like, ‘I got this, I learned and now all that I’ve learned to draw, I can take it and keep on doing both, just trying to balance.’

For now, I feel like I’m floating between countries. I think I’m going to move to Paris next year and there will be time for me to settle down some more.

I’ll feel it. I’m not very obsessed with… I’m just letting go.

How would you describe your tattoo style?

Girly. Fragile, super fragile. Emotional. Depressive and happy in the same time. It’s a weird feeling because you see the drawings and most people be like, ‘ah so cute!’ But behind that there’s hard feelings sometimes. Sometimes, not always.

You’ve got a teardrop on your tattoo over there. I always like that kind of side of the drawings. Doing something that looks very flimsy, fragile and pretty girly but at the same time it’s got this strong emotional charge. That’s the way I like my tattoos.

I think I need to develop myself as an artist rather than just as a tattoo artist. Say, I don’t know, painting some canvasses or walls. I never get the push to do it, but when I do it’s fun. Maybe I should do some street art or some bigger tattoo pieces. I don’t know – I see all the tattooists who are like, they’ve got a lot of content besides tattooing. But, ‘temps au temps’. Like slowly, it’s arriving. It’s coming, it’s coming. I’m not very rushed, it’s cool.

How do you find riding in Paris?

Tight. I find it tight. At first when I came from Argentina I was like, ‘ah this is so Europe. It’s perfect.’ Then you realise people here, it’s more that they’re on their own with their little smart cars: ‘I fit everywhere, I don’t put turning lights on or whatever.’ It’s like always stupid mistakes you’ve got to be aware of. Not aggressive ways of driving like in Argentina. In Argentina there’s space but people drive in a gnarly way, I would say.

Here it’s stupid – you’ve got to pay attention because there are stupid mistakes happening every two seconds and it’s tight. It’s just tight. A car and a bike, they fit just right – and I like to ride wide bars so it’s pretty sketchy. But it’s more surfy – it cruises better.

Once I’d done it, I was like ‘ah dude I’ve been missing out like all this time.’ I really like it. I like just being responsible for my own time. I’m always late though. I’m from South America so…

‘I’m a great courier but I’m always late.’

I’m good at working! I’d be always on time when working. I wasn’t the fastest but I would make it because I’d plan it good – spend one more minute reading the map but five minutes less riding. I’d never be there waiting for someone to give me something, I’d just get people to go go go.

Did you ever get into racing?

I’m not a competitive person at all. I get very frustrated, so nah. I did a bunch of ECMC, CMWC main race and qualifications but I compare myself with others every time. It’s a problem I’ve got to come over. As long as I’m riding on my own it’s cool but if I have to compete with others, I don’t like it. I feel like I’m always weak and I put myself down so quickly that it sucks. So I kind of step out of it a bit. I feel like I go between a thousand box fighters or I dunno, it’s so weird.

That’s probably why I’m doing this – drawing, or being isolated sometimes. I just like going around and riding by myself, you know. Going at my speed, my ways. I used to take the nice way instead of the fastest way if I had time. I’m that kind of guy – I don’t like competing with others.

I feel like my brain runs very slow or very different to other people’s brains, or just a different way of thinking. That’s really evident whenever you compare yourself in a race. It puts a lot of pressure on and I’m not comfortable. I should, because it’s fun if you don’t hesitate. I’ve done it a bunch of times where it was fun – but sometimes it’s too much.

Ah so you have actually had fun racing sometimes.

In Copenhagen I had a bunch of funny races. My very first ones, actually. Copenhagen was my first championship – the European Championship. We went with the COURIIER guys and did a bunch of races. I liked those alleycats where they had games in the middle. We did it just for fun – we were all pretty tired. They had games and to do the checkpoints you had to do a home run in a sort of baseball they have there or you could play bike polo. Funny.

Do you mostly ride by yourself?

Mostly in the night or for a coffee, for sure. Coffee plays a very important role. I can’t stop tattooing things related to coffee or wine. I like to ride on my own or maybe with one other person. If it gets too crowded then it’s like nah, I lose it. Sometimes it’s very good but mostly I prefer nice peace. Pretty isolated, hey.

It’s a general theme coming up, yeah. Is there a particular ride in Paris you’ve found particularly memorable that stuck with you or you felt very fondly of?

Absolutely. It would probably be the days we worked a lot but so constant you wouldn’t get tired. Let’s say with no rushes or big stops in the middle. Those days I would like a lot.

Then riding here, I love to ride in the small streets. I love it. Like I would always take the weird shortcuts cause I like to look at the moon and like I know when there’s a full moon I should take this one road in particular cause it looks right. Or the architecture in this one is better than the other ones so I’d take this one.

I don’t know if there’s a road in Paris in particular – well yeah, Avenue de’Republique is one that I like because it goes down just just right but besides that Paris has got that architecture that it all looks the same cause there’s a master plan behind it that makes it look all the same height and with the same way of constructing it. But I always prefer small roads – it’s quiet, it’s more personal.

It’s very related to my art. If you see my drawings there’s a lot of these Parisian houses – not straight at all and they tend to fall apart but they’re still there. That’s what I like to watch while I’m riding my bike. Just these windows with something coming out or you can see that the whole building is crooked or somebody just made up half an extra floor so there’s something popping out, or some chimneys that throw smoke into someone else’s window. It’s just that charm that I like. I like to find that when I’m on my bike. It’s the right time to do it. I get really inspired by riding.

So Paris has really influenced your drawings.

The houses are 100% Parisian. Sometimes I’ll put like cats in there.

If you see it, it’s like someone got a brush for the city and painted it all the same colour. So that’s what I like – it’s peaceful for your mind. It’s like it’s got this constant, whole identity but at the same time there are all these little things. You’re always looking through this window that’s barely different to the one next to it and that’s something I really like.

The planning of the city is the same. It’s got very clear access but then in the middle it’s like whatever, whatever. The roads that just change names like every 200 metres. I was not used to that when I came from Buenos Aires because the roads there go forever, from zero to 3,000 or 30,000 in numbers. So it’s like the same road that goes through a lot of neighbourhoods and here it’s such a short road that you could know instantly where it is in the city, but also get lost easily if you’re not used to it.

I would say the planning of the city architecture makes sense – it just makes sense. It’s very perfect but it’s the small things that are all chaotic that make the beauty of it. So that’s what’s been inspiring me this last year and a half.

It probably comes from riding. If I wasn’t riding, I wouldn’t have noticed. Like the first time I came to Paris, I took the Metro because I wasn’t even riding bikes and I couldn’t tell, whereas when you’re riding you understand it from the inner centre.

That’s probably what kept my mind working a bit.

Tell me about your bicycle.

The Look Bicycle! That’s a bike I’d seen a bunch of time in Paris. The classic French fucking track bike and I always dreamed about it. It’s very surfy. It’s just so light and has a good balance. It’s nice to ride it. It’s just that. There’s not many things about a fixed gear bike you can tell besides the simplicity of it and how good it feels to ride them.

Do you surf or do you just like that analogy?

I surf, I surf, I surf. It’s one of the best things on earth. It’s weird because I love surfing but I cannot get out of the city very easily. I’m quite like a rat – I feed off the city so much that sometimes I cannot get out. I was supposed to come here for a month instead of a year. I was supposed to go by the beach for the whole year but I ended up staying in Paris. That’s what keeps me related to that energy. Having a bike that pushes you as well, and it’s pretty unpredictable.

To brake, it’s like you brake with your legs – it’s not just about touching things. It’s like surfing: you wanna slow down? You gotta do something. You wanna speed up? You take advantage of the energy of the wave or the bike gives you, so that’s why I like my brakeless track bike.

I mean, I skate as well. I surf. There’s all this kind of background involved. It gets you into riding these kind of things. It’s something I’ll never quit. I could stop for months but I’ll always go back and go out and have fun.

Does Paris feel like home now?

Yeah, much more than Argentina. Pretty much because my life changed so much. Because I developed a lot of things here. I feel like I’ve changed a lot and I belong to whatever I’ve learned here, more than what I’ve experienced in Argentina, even though it’s one year versus 25. I’m living out of something I learned here, I’ve got a lot of friends, I’m much more confident in myself. I like the size of the city. It’s always challenging as well to try and remember the map. There’s a bunch of things I’m very interested in.

It’s like the city – this thing we were talking about before. This very solid identity but so fragile at the same time. All these kind of mistakes within the perfection that Paris has. I feel like I’ve got a particular identity as myself. I’m very fragile as well. So if you compare both, I’m more like Paris than Buenos Aires.

Why has Paris made you more confident?

I had to start from the bottom. Came here like naked – no job, no French, no bullshit, no nothing. I learned to speak the language of the city with the bike messengers – I first learned the slang then learned the official language. I got so much inspiration from here.

I had to do everything myself. When you are doing things, then you get more confident. When you get someone to do other things for you, then you feel less. You’re not out there. Here, I was out there every day and I had to create something in order to live. And it ended up so good.


Find Felipe on Instagram and on Tumblr.

ClaireFelipe Buigues: drawing, tattooing and surfing the streets of Paris