Jean-Luc Moerman-portrait of the artist


Belgian artist Jean-Luc Moerman draws on skin, but as Paul Ames explains, his form of tattoo art is a painless procedure

The naked buttocks of Kate Moss, the Brussels headquarters of ING bank and a white polyester statue of Christ have all provided a surface for the art of Jean-Luc Moerman.

To be accurate, Moerman’s tattoo-like ink designs have covered several glossy photographic reproductions of Ms Moss in the buff rather than decorating the downy curves of her actual derriere.

Moerman was however able to get his hands on the real ING head office, draping the facade on Avenue Marnix in a 2,200 square metre tarpaulin to create one of Belgium’s biggest art works.

With the catchy title of “Multifunctional polydirectional hybrids” it’s a swirling mass of abstract colours. For ladies who fancy a piece of it, ING is slicing the painting into 1,400 handbags at the end of June to be handed out to competition winners.

“It doesn’t bother me that they’re going to cut it up, it’s a way of recycling. People shouldn’t get too religious about contemporary art, treating works like they’re the Mona Lisa or something,” says Moerman, kicking back in his Saint Gilles studio. “Art should be vital, like in the days of the cavemen drawing on walls.”

Not that Moerman has any qualms about the commercialisation of his work. Aside from the ING project, he’s collaborated with French automaker Peugeot to produce decorated cars and has designed chic, special edition handbags for Longchamp.

“Wherever it goes, art is still something very personal for me. It is something I have to do full-time,” he says. “These days there are artists who don’t even do their own work, they have it done by a team on a production line, just to keep the galleries happy.”

Born in Brussels in 1967, Moerman quit school at 17 and launched himself in the art world with no formal training, inspired by Jackson Pollock, Alberto Giacometti and the Art Brut movement.

These days, he works on big multicoloured scrawls like the tarp at ING and on precise black ink “tattoos” which he spreads over photos of Moss, Marilyn Monroe and other paragons of modern- day beauty, politicians from Obama to Gaddafi, or nudes by old masters like Rubens or Cranach.

“When I see photos of models I want to make them more carnal, more real, the tattoo does that,” he says. “With politicians like Obama or Sarkozy, I tattoo their faces to turn them into tribal leaders.”

His black-ink designs are now being applied on an architectural level to cover a new sports centre in the Dutch city of Tilburg. Others may decorate the maillots of a tour de France team this summer. Moerman has also progressed to doing real tattoos, and says clients have included at least two Belgian politicians  – he declines to name them. So far, however, neither Kate nor Barack have dropped by to get some ink done.