Balazs Bercsenyi is a multi-faceted tattoo artist from Pécs, Hungary. His unique, meticulous style is influenced by ritual, spirituality, geometry, the occult, and sculpture, and has become the cornerstone of his independent art projects.
After an apprenticeship in London at the age of twenty, Balazs went on to join the world-renowned Bang Bang crew in New York City. While continuing his passion for tattooing, he has explored illustration and fashion design as new mediums to bridge the gap between ancient tradition and modern elegance.
His newest endeavor, tattoo retreats, involves the expertise of a healing facilitator and an eastern medicine body worker and movement practitioner. Curated by the team and set in a mystical framework to prepare the mind and body to receive a tattoo, the duration of the retreat can vary between three and six days depending on the client’s desires.
Each retreat includes days of tattooing, overnight stays, nourishing meals, integration/design sessions, movement/acupuncture sessions, intention setting, and energy work. The healing facilitator focuses on reframing situations, empowerment, and the release of limiting beliefs, while the body worker uses breath work, embodiment, and acupuncture. This interaction between the mind and body creates a powerful and synergistic client transformation.
Balazs opened up to Face the Current to discuss his retreats; his experience at Bang Bang; his tattoo animation project, “A Life of a Rose”; and what’s next for him as he follows the energy of his artistic gift.
Sasha Frate: What led you to create a retreat tattooing experience and how do you curate these experiences for each person?
Balazs: After I left New York in 2019, I happened to go to Norway to do a tattoo there. I met a healer and I was lucky enough to do a session with him. It was beautiful and I went through a lot of release and a lot of healing that day. It shifted my perception on a lot of things, including how I want to work in the tattooing industry. When the healing occurred, I thought, “How can I host a similar experience where people can get not only a tattoo, but also a healing experience?” It’s really just giving people a safe space to be and rest. So, after I had that session with the healer, we agreed that we’d do a tattoo retreat together.
We hosted one in Bali that summer. We had a six-week retreat with eight or nine clients that stayed for one or two nights. It was not a group setting, it was individual. It’s basically a normal tattoo session with a client, but instead of walking into a studio, getting tattooed and then leaving, the clients come and stay with us for at least two nights. This really gives us the opportunity to know each other and dig deeper into who they are. I feel like people are looking for a connection and tattooing is just an excuse to establish that connection. It was beautiful to take tattooing—which is such a primal, tribal thing—and remove the business aspect. It felt like, “Let’s just receive the client and fully experience them, and be with them, and listen to them, and give them space.” That is such a huge gift—it’s a beautiful experience.
And then we did another retreat in October of 2019 for two weeks in Crete and two weeks in Norway. I understand that it’s probably not a good fit for everyone, but I feel people came to the retreat for a reason; they felt the calling to have a different experience.
SF: There are crosses present in your videos and on your website. What do they represent?
B: I was researching my family name, Bercsenyi, and it’s an old Hungarian name. I found a family crest and there are five plus symbols on it. I just started using it because I like the aesthetics and it has this positive feel to it.
I started incorporating them in the tattoos and then my website graphic designer saw them and put it in the coordinators. It kind of just naturally happened.
SF: How did your work/experience with the Bang Bang crew in New York City impact your journey?
B: Being at Bang Bang was amazing—it was such a beautiful experience. I had already been tattooing for six or seven years before I moved to New York, but I had never actually worked in a studio—I was always working solo. So, Bang Bang was the first time I actually joined a group of artists and it definitely impacted everything in my life. Just moving to New York and living there was such a blessing and so amazing. It’s such a beautiful city with vibrant energies, and there’s an energy grid you just connect to.
Keith McCurdy is the owner of Bang Bang and he’s an amazing guy. He’s a very smart man and it was beautiful to see how he operates and manages, and how he basically built the company. I definitely learned a lot just by watching him, including how to manage people and bring many talents together. I also worked with so many amazing artists and I became really good friends with most of them. Learning about different styles impacted my works in a huge way.
SF: Where you are today with your gift?
B: I worked at Bang Bang for three years and I decided to leave after that. I’m extremely grateful for my time there and it was an amazing experience, but I just felt like I wanted to do me—I wanted a change. I wanted to do things in my own way, and the retreat is just that. From a healing perspective, I wanted to create that quiet environment where people can come and rest and chill. Bang Bang is in the middle of New York—it’s a very vibrant place to get tattooed. There’s loud music, a lot of people—it was crowded. The energies were fast-paced and I felt like I wanted to slow down. My life became slower, but I’m more at ease and more relaxed.
I’ve been traveling around since I left New York, and I was in Hungary when COVID hit so I decided to stay. I’ve been there for a little bit longer than a year, but I’m planning on traveling again soon.
SF: Your clientele is vast and varied, ranging from tattooing celebrities to tattooing a Lamborghini! Can you share a few examples of tattoo requests that ended up being particularly meaningful for you as the artist?
B: I have clients from all over the world. I’m trying to do different projects, but I also want to be very selective about who and what I’m tattooing. I’m following the energies instead of picking based on design. I can get the energy of the person who’s sending me an email, or sometimes I just trust the universe that whoever is meant to come to me is being sent to me.
I feel like every tattoo that I do is meaningful—not necessarily for me, but for the client.
The Lamborghini project was beautiful and was a very unique thing. I only had twenty-four hours to “tattoo” the Lamborghini. I do get interesting opportunities like sleeves and bigger projects, and they are pretty cool; they give me a lot of freedom.
SF: How did you learn all the different symbols and languages that you’ve tattooed, especially the ancient ones?
B: I didn’t learn it, it just comes to me and it’s whatever appeals to me aesthetically in that moment.
I’m a tattooist and I’m a stylist—I’m styling a tattoo so it’s all about aesthetics. The way I started doing these symbols and ancient languages is it just comes through me. I look at the canvas, I create a base design on the computer, then I print it out and add my finishing touches. I put the stencil on and then freehand some stuff on the skin afterwards. Sometimes I feel like I’m just a child playing and I like keeping that childish mindset. I try not to take life too seriously—it’s such a key element because at the end of the day,
I feel like this human experience should not be hard.; it should not be painful and fearful. I feel like it should be joyful and happy, and it’s up to us to choose. We do have a choice and we control our state of mind. It’s easier to live life joyfully and happily instead of being sad, worried, and fearful all the time. When I look at my tattoos, it always reminds me of that.
SF: How do you decide what tattoos to make permanent on your own body canvas and how/when do you decide when your personal canvas is “complete”?
B: I’m just following the aesthetics. I look in the mirror and I just envision a piece here or there, and then I just do a little bit of doodling and then find an artist. (At Bang Bang it was easy—I’d just go to a friend).
I don’t think it’s ever complete. What is completion? I feel like life is a constant flow. We’re living in eternity. Everything is always now, so there’s no past and future. Is there really a thing to complete? I don’t think my body ever will be complete in that sense.
SF: When a client asks you to “free flow” a tattoo for them, from where/how do you source inspiration, symbols, and art for that person? (Do they typically give some guidance, or do you get full freedom?)
B: Usually, I ask them something like, “Give me a direction.” First, I need to know the tattoo’s location, and then I need to know some sort of direction; an aesthetic point of view. It could be that they show me an old tattoo that I’ve done before or just a tattoo on someone else. From there, I work around the theme. (I’ve got a bunch of images saved from the past years, and with the help of internet, everything is accessible.) So, I use a baseline and then I just free-flow. This method is a mutual collaboration between me and the client, so there are not a lot of restrictions. It’s a co-creation, so there is free-flow from my end, but there is also a little bit of guidance needed.
SF: “A Life of a Rose” is an incredible creative group tattooing project and a compelling story. Can you share a bit about the inception of this project and how it all came together?
B: “A Life of a Rose” is something that came to my mind in 2018 when I was still in New York. I envisioned male hands giving a rose to a female and then the rose dies. It’s like a representation of the cycle of life. After I left Bang Bang I decided to bring that vision to life in the form of tattoo animation [a form of stop-motion animation that uses tattoos to tell a story].
We did it as a group tattooing project in Hungary and I announced it on Instagram. We had around 600 people reach out and apply, and we selected seventy. It was free of charge but I was the one who decided what tattoo they got. We recorded it, and I was basically tattooing for seven days straight, averaging nine tattoos a day. It was really exhausting! At the end of day three, I remember feeling like I was dead. All this attention and energy goes out, welcoming each person and explaining the process. Even though it was small tattoos, it was really, really exhausting—not just for me, but for everyone! It was all worth it in the end, though—it was beautiful. And then having these people connecting with one another was amazing. Imagine you’re in Hungary wearing one of these pieces and then you run into someone that has a piece as well. How cool is that? It’s like being a part of something greater. It was a beautiful story and I’m very, very happy that I was able to deliver it. I was not the first person to do tattoo animation, but I think it was probably the longest one that had the most people.
SF: In this story, “A Life of a Rose”, you say that “life’s ultimate purpose is to discover your gift”. What are a few things that you hope to accomplish in your lifetime with your gift?
B: The greatest gift we have is the realization that we are already there, and we are already it. There is nothing to seek; there’s nothing to accomplish. Why would you need to accomplish anything if you are already everything and you always were? You’re already there. It’s been two years since I said the sentence you quoted, and I feel like one of the greatest gifts is reaching that awakening. It’s just a realization of who we really are and finding our true nature.
It’s like reestablishing the faith and finding the peace that comes from that. You then get to radiate onto other people, and “heal” them and/or yourself by joining in that peace of mind. That’s how I feel I could connect everything together—the retreat and tattooing. It’s really about joining, because there is no separation. Life of a Rose was meant to symbolize that, too. We seem to walk on earth separately, in these separate bodies, and all these fragments. But in reality, we’re all one—the source is the same.
So, if we are still connected to this source then you can get to question the validity of separation. I feel that’s the greatest gift—it’s reaching that state of mind. From there, you just give love and you share love, because you are love.