David Sena Studio Visit

Intergalactic paintings made from fireworks by a world-renowned tattoo artist

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Destruction and ritual are forces of creativity to David Sena. At North Star Tattoo he pushes the boundaries of body art. In his studio, Sena uses fire, fireworks and gunpowder to burn complex patterns, lines and shapes on paper.

“These forms of creative expression have coexisted well because they both entail physical and ritualistic processes of mark-making while transforming matter/people,” says Sena.

After studying fine art at Cooper Hewitt, Sena found a calling for skin as a medium when he took a drawing job at a tattoo shop, where he honed his skills in illustration and figurative drawing. He began tattooing shortly thereafter and discovered a knack for the craft on par with his creativity. Now recognized globally as a master of various tattoo styles—Japanese, pre-Hispanic and Black—he also co-founded North Star in the East Village.

CH editor Evan Orensten and I both went under Sena’s needle (and both won awards for his work), building a relationship with him in the process. Already familiar with his paper compositions, we recently visited Sena’s Brooklyn studio to watch Sena at work with his other medium of choice, fire.


While you might think the flames, smoke and explosions would amount to something like Burning Man indoors, Sena’s methodical process is an example of his intense focus and control, a necessary level of safety and relates back to the ideas informing his artistic practice. Wearing protective gloves, all his techniques—drawing a circle on paper by holding a smoke bomb with pliers, containing firecracker blasts in a cup and burning perfect circles in to paper with slow, controlled movements—go back to his fascination with the unique aesthetic properties of fire and the interplay of chaos and order.


This performative process will get a larger audience at an event on 26 May 2010 in Rome’s The Road to Contemporary gallery, hosted by Bangart.

Check out the gallery below to see more images of Sena’s studio, process and finished pieces.