In conversation with Fabrizio Divari, Toronto’s only Milan-trained tattoo artist

Every tattoo artist considers the human body their canvas, but for Fabrizio Divari, it’s a gallery of fine art – curated with original designs depicting true stories and life moments. Cubism and futurism, but also an innate inclination for flora and fauna, inspire bold work that is conceptualized on the drawing table before making its mark on skin. By experimenting with geometric shapes, fine details and colourful, vibrant images, his tattoos live within a contemporary, innovative spectrum.

As one of Toronto’s most revered tattoo artists and fine painters, local residents and visitors alike visit Divari’s welcoming Parkdale studio. From a full sleeve to large back pieces, clients are happy to spend time getting some ink. In an industry where Asian art, traditional and neo-traditional styles are commonplace, he pushes boundaries and stands apart from the rest by popularizing larger, more intricate works. With a fine art degree from his hometown of Milan, Italy, and a CV that includes stints at studios around the world, Divari’s experience is evident in every colour palette dip of the needle. 

Post City visited Divari’s studio to check out his work and chat about what inspires him, Toronto living and tattoo trends. 

(Image: Ola Mazzuca)


Who are you?

Fabrizio Divari. Born in Rome. Raised in Milan. I’ve been doodling since I was a child, after high school I started studying philosophy at the University of Milan before deciding to  pursue some art experience first at the School of Illustration of Castello Sforzesco and then at Accademia di Belle Arti di BreraShortly after, I stumbled into tattooing by chance and wanted to give it a shot. From the early 90’s I started traveling a lot, and after a few years I ended up working in several studios around the world. Between 1996 and 2002 I visited and worked at shops in Costa Rica, Spain, San Diego, Trinidad, Miami and New York. Now, I’m here in Toronto, where I own and run my studio.



After almost 20 years since the start, I am finally getting close to the place I’ve always wanted to be. I now have the luxury of being able to pick and choose the pieces I do. I have a lot of requests so thankfully that allows me to express my creativity in the best possible way. It is more of an atelier than a tattoo shop at this point.

People come in for a consultation, we measure the area and brainstorm ideas and possibilities.The studio is pure creativity for me; I just go in the back room and start drawing, or painting. That becomes a stencil, then it goes on skin and after a few sessions, the final product.



Were you ever drawn to tattooing while growing up in Italy?

Not really. In Italy, when I started tattooing, it was a very obscure business. It wasn’t even a job. Back then, it was considered rare. There was no money or room for growth. There was only a handful of decent artists in Milan, and it was very underground. No one wanted to pass the craft on to you, so when I started, I took a big chance. But I didn't even know that – it was just for fun. I had no idea that 20 years later I would be here doing this full time, as an accomplished artist and as happy as I am to make a great living out of my passion. It’s priceless.



What inspired you to integrate art forms like Cubism into your work?

I’ve always loved visual arts, of all kinds. But especially modern art, which is not contemporary, as some people tend to misunderstand. Let’s say all of the periods that go from the Impressionism of Cezanne to the late Picasso and [Marcel] Duchamp; I’ve always been inspired by that. 

Particularly by cubism and futurism, which was the Italian response to the cubism happening in France. Painters like [Umberto] Boccioni, [Giacomo] Balla, [Gino] Severini – I always loved the way they  rendered movement in a two-dimensional medium using repeated geometries to synthesize dynamism.

Cubism did a similar thing, but instead of movement, it looked at an object from different angles simultaneously. Like a portrait of a woman with the eyes seen from the front and the nose from the side. I just always loved the fact that modern art was such a rupture from the past and gave the viewer for the first time ever not only the possibility but the duty of interpretation.



I try to provide that same feeling in my work. I really enjoy working on a piece that is evident enough to be recognizable yet giving different perceptions to different people. I still do traditional and Asian, but even in that case I try to push boundaries with the use of colour palette, details, flow and composition. Cubism is much more creative, it’s much more unique. Asian; everyone does that, especially in the city, and they do it well. But I don’t know of any local artists that do Cubism.

I’m trying to offer the clients, the collectors and viewers down the street some sort of shock value, in a positive way. When I make an impression, I’ve achieved my goal. When people say “Wow! That doesn’t even look like a tattoo.” That’s the reaction I want.



How did your experience studying fine art influence the work you do today?

It helped a lot. Colour theory, perspective and how to render it, composition, all of these elements aren't made up in your head. You have to study them and practice them. I did both, still do, and still learn, too. It’s never over. But yes, the study and experience gave me the means to build the artistic confidence that’s necessary to stand out from the crowd. 



What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

One is the drawing process. When I start a project, which is often a large piece, it’s usually incredibly complex. Before I go to the drafting table, there is a lot of research, in terms of subject matter and style. Then, I hit the drafting table and there is a lot of trial and error before I get to what makes me happy. It’s very time consuming, so it’s helpful to leave it there at the end of the day and return with a fresh point of view the next. At that point, I might catch something that I didn’t see before. When you are drawing for five hours straight, you can lose perspective. So, this space helps. On the other hand, it’s the most rewarding aspect of my job. When I see a sleeve that took me two or three days to draw, then two months later I see the tattoo finished, I’m very happy. 



The other aspect is working on the client. A tattoo artist’s job is not only to draw something on skin. It becomes very straining, physically, as at times, we have to hold weird postures for hours, like acrobats. There is no room for mistakes, so the level of stress can be pretty high. Finally, there’s a degree of psychology involved; you have to be a good listener and good talker, so there is a lot of things going on in three or four hours of a session. 

Do you ever learn from or collaborate with other artists?

A couple times per year, I travel to do guest spots, mostly in Milano and San Diego at two very good studios (Quetzal and Guru), where I am good friend with the owners. That’s a window for me to go and absorb, by being in touch with other artists and studios. We exchange knowledge about latest techniques and supplies, and since I run the shop in Toronto on my own, I can be quite isolated so these visits are necessary to keep up with the industry.



When are you most in your element?

When clients come in with a specific idea, but they’re ready to grant me full creative control. If someone comes in and says, “I want a phoenix, half sleeve, do whatever you want with it,” that is when I am happiest and when my clients get the best work from me. Every detail from line work, composition, design and colour, from inception to completion, is in my hands and that’s when I utilize artistic techniques to make it an outstanding piece.

Do you foresee any trends in tattoo culture?

Today there are so many amazing artists out there with fresh ideas and styles, its almost overwhelming, very exciting. Some of these are very recognizable at this point, that’s a new thing. Up until a few years ago, it was like “That’s a cool tattoo, who did that?” but now people would say, “Wow, is that Steve Moore?” So I’d say the trend will be seeing more and more talented artists putting their signature on their work. Tattooing is finally and fully a fine art discipline nowadays, no longer frown upon or reserved for the outcast. 



You’ve traveled extensively – why do you live and work where you do?

The coldest one out of all, too! I was born in Rome, lived in Bologna, Milan, then left for Costa Rica, Miami, then New York. Technically speaking, Toronto is more home to me than anywhere else. I ended up here 14 years ago, longer then any other city I’ve ever lived in. Back then it was hard, I struggled a lot, I couldn’t find any work tattooing for two or three years and ended up as a bartender, consistently being fired, cause I suck at bringing glasses to the table! But I persisted and eventually it started to work out. I have to give New Tribe some credit. It was one of the busiest shops in the city and all that hard work, along with some solid and talented guys, was a turning point for me, and kind of built my bones for the future. Slowly, it got better and I improved my skills and started to get more and more clients. Especially in terms of client requests – I started to get more artistic freedom. That’s why I wanted to stay. I have such great clientele. I’m grateful to the city and the people living here and allowing me to change their appearance forever. I think Torontonians have a lot of cool ideas and are very adventurous, generally with everything, but specifically with tattoos, way more then Italy and Europe in general. People in Toronto are ahead.



On top of that, Toronto is a pleasant city to live in. It’s an easy city to live in, I have a great life here. And I still get to travel whenever I want. This place is still growing on me. If I’m away for a while in the summer, I feel the urge to come back. It’s taken time, but Toronto has definitely adopted me.

Follow Fabrizio Divari’s work on Instagram: @fabriziodivaritattoos. Check out his page on Facebook, or visit his website for more fine art and ink. 

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO