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X marks the spot … to ink

Tattoo artist Olivier Roulin will open his parlour, called Lex Roulor’s Angkor Tattoo, inside Siem Reap’s X Bar next week. Photo by: MICHAEL SLOAN

Patrons at Siem Reap nightspot X Bar will soon have the option of ordering a tattoo with their drink, after manager Carlo Tarabini struck a deal with French skin illustrator Olivier Roulin to move his Lex Roulor Angkor Tattoo Shop into a spare room behind the bar.

Roulin told 7Days that construction of his studio is nearing completion and he plans to open for business next week, trading under the name of his tattoo artist alias “Lex Roulor”, a name whose origins he was initially reluctant to divulge.

“It’s kind of a secret. Basically, back 20 years ago with my French friends who I knew for a long time, we used to do many role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons and I used to do funny stuff they didn’t like. They nicknamed me Lex Luthor who is the bad guy in Superman. So my tattoo name became Lex Roulor,” he said.

While admitting that establishing his business inside a bar may lead to requests for tattoos that customers will regret in the morning, Roulin explains he prefers to only practice his art on the sober.

“It is no good to work on someone who has a lot of alcohol in their system because a drunk body doesn’t tattoo the same; it makes the blood liquify and the tattooing is more painful. Also, you can have problems with some colours of ink, and I think sometimes being a tattooist is about learning the art of saying no.”

Roulin told 7Days the cost of importing tattoo ink from Europe means his prices are higher than some of the competition’s, ranging from between $50 and $70 for a smaller tattoo, and up to $50 per hour for a large work requiring multiple sessions.

“This depends on the complexity. If you are having a very large tattoo it may take up to three sessions of between four and five hours with time in between to let the skin heal. I think my main customers are going to be backpackers who want small souvenir tattoos, but I can do larger ones if customers have the time.”

While many Khmer tattooists are doing business in Siem Reap, Roulin claims his tattoo studio is different, both in the quality of the equipment and in the approach.

“I’m not saying bad things about the people here, but I’m going to keep the thing professional and very clean.

I use disposable needles and grips. I don’t want to use ones that you clean because here in Cambodia it’s much more practical and clean to use sterilised and disposable equipment because of the dust.”

Prior to becoming a professional tattooist, Roulin worked as a freelance graphic designer and illustrator for French companies before deciding to switch careers.

“In the past I was working hard all day, all the time, and I decided to go into tattooing because it was the perfect mix between drawing and doing very interesting technical things, with skin as a medium.”

A two-year apprenticeship in a Belgian tattoo shop allowed him the time to build up a portfolio of designs, and Roulin is unrelenting in using a design only three times before developing another.

“My interests are in comics and old school tattoo designs but I also like the world of creation and fantasy as it helps to develop designs based on what the customer wants,” he said.

When asked about the significance of the nautical themed tattoos which cover his right arm, Roulin said they are symbolic of his “odyssey” from country to country during 2010, prior to moving semi-permanently to Siem Reap with his girlfriend Zoey in February.

“My girlfriend and I tried moving to Hangzhou, China, at the end of last year but we didn’t like it. We decided Siem Reap was a better place because it had a good location and climate and a nice character. We love these kinds of busy small cities with food stalls and a bit of dust. You can just go around on your bicycle and soak in the rhythm.”

X Bar manager Carlo Tarabini told 7Days the idea of installing a tattoo parlour in his establishment was one he’d been toying with after completing the construction of a skate ramp on the bar’s roof in 2008.

“I think it creates something else that can draw people in,” he said. “I’d like to have as many interesting things as I can up here to entertain people as much as possible. I used to get sick and tired of going into bars that had been renovated up to the nines which takes all the character and charm away. With X Bar I wanted to create a place that was kind of grungy and had no pretences and I think Olivier will fit in well here.”

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