Roland Pacheco Cover Photo Image

Roland Pacheco of Xisle Custom Tattoo

Roland Pacheco of Xisle Custom Tattoo

Roland Pacheco Profile PictureThis week’s Artist Spotlight is on Roland Pacheco of Xisle Custom Tattoo, located in the small Hawaiian town of Hawi. Roland Pacheco specializes in the Polynesian style of tattooing. He may look familiar if you watched season 4 of Spike TV’s Ink Master. We caught up with Roland to talk about his artwork and his book Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo.

You have been tattooing for about 10 years now, has tattooing always been something that you wanted to do?

The short answer is, yes, however, I never set out to be a tattoo artist as much as I had been ‘guided’ by my own actions to become one. I know it sounds strange but it was as if all of the things that I had done, up to that point in my life in regards to art, was leading me to apply all of those things into becoming a tattoo artist. All of my fine art, commercial art and animation background were steps in that direction.
I remember when I first considered becoming a tattoo artist (I had been told throughout my life by many, many people that I should be a tattooist) after a friend told me that he wished I could tattoo so that he could get work from me, it was like a slap in the face. It was as if the tattoo gods reached down and hit me upside the head and said, “Why the hell aren’t you a tattoo artist? Everything that you have been doing thus far is leading you down this path. Embrace it!”
My dad was big into tats and would draw sharks and stuff on me when I was a kid. I would then draw stuff on my friends. When I was older I began buying tattoo magazines and drawing my own flash for myself and my friends. Tattooing has always been there in the background for as long as I remember. It is a huge part of my culture.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

In your book, Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo you mentioned that you are a 6 generation Polynesian; was your family involved with tattooing as well?

I am a 6th generation Polynesian but none in my family were tattoo artists, per se. My family were paniolo, or cowboys. We owned a 400 acre ranch with cows and horses and all that. They wanted me to be a cowboy but I was not down with that! Smelly beasts and all that goes with that was not my thing, lol.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

Tattoo equipment and methods have changed over the years; have you ever tattooed a client using the “old” method of tapping instead of a coil machine?

I created my own modern version of the ta and kuau, the instruments used in traditional Polynesian tap tattoo. I made them out of aluminum and recycled would from the Martin guitar factory. Traditional tools were made entirely of wood and the needles were made mainly from bones, shells or teeth. Carving needles out of bone or tusk takes time and seemed impractical, not to mention the sterilization of such things. I created mine to utilize modern needles that I would use once and dispose of afterward. And because the tools are made from aluminum and can be disassembled, I can autoclave them after each use. I only use coil machines for Polynesian tattoo, otherwise I use rotaries.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

How old were you when you got your first tattoo? What was it? An story behind it?

I was 18, almost to the day. I remember that I couldn’t wait to turn 18 so that I could get my first tat. I was living in California at the time, having moved there to go to school (the school system in Hawaii is terrible and my mom wanted me to have a decent education), and all of my friends and I piled into a car and drove to San Jose to Dragon Tattoo, run by Pinky Yun. I didn’t know what I was going to get and was trying to figure it out on the ride up there. I finally settled on a bull, being a Taurus, and because I loved cars, chose the Lamborghini emblem. It is by far my most heavy handed piece. Some days it looks like I was branded because of the scarring, lol. Still, I went back to Pinky and his brother Blind Eddy to get more work.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

What artist(s) have influenced you and your work over the years?

I’ve been influenced by many artists throughout my life; some are fine artists, others are automobile stylists and many are simply illustrators. If I had to make a list of my top ten influential artists it would be:

  • Frank Frazetta (fine)
  • Pablo Picasso (fine)
  • Johannes Vermeer (fine)
  • Sergio Argones (illustrator)
  • Berkeley Breathed (illustrator)
  • H.R. Giger (fine, sculpture, mixed)
  • Pinin Farina (auto)
  • Marcello Gandini (auto)
  • Giorgetto Giugiaro (auto)
  • Frank Miller (illustrator)

My intention after high school was to become an Aeronautical Engineer, and to design cars. After a semester of college, I found music and dropped out to chase a musical career, which is another story entirely.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

Owning your own shop in Hawaii; do you get to do more than Polynesian and “tourist” keepsakes?

At first I was up to my neck in turtles and flowers. Everyone wanted something small to take home with them. Over the years, people have become much more informed about tattoo art and the possibilities. Now I focus on custom work, that may or may not include turtles and flowers, lol. But seriously, my clientele has become more sophisticated and are wanting more elaborate work, and that goes for the occasional tourist that wanders in off the street. People come from all over the world to get tattooed by me, and because of that they tend to want bigger, and more personal pieces.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

Working with the style of Polynesian tattoos, what do you think when you see a badly done?

Well, a bad tattoo is a bad tattoo, period. Because of the varying amount of knowledge of most Polynesian tattoo artists doing Polynesian work, the issue isn’t so much a lack of technical ability as much as it is a lesser understanding of the symbols and how to use them. In this sense, when I see a piece that is not well thought out or uses the same imagery, over and over again, or clearly lacks the proper usage of symbols, that bothers me. But not too much. Polynesian art is folk art, and because of this fact, the intention of the artist slightly trumps the intention behind the tattoo. If an artist is ignorant of the symbols and uses a dozen or so, changing up something here or there, then the tattoo will reflect his/her (in)complete understanding and yet should be respected to a degree. Now, the client should know the capabilities of the artist and choose wisely when it comes to having someone create a unique and personal piece for them. The problem is that there are so many artists that do not understand the symbols, yet to the casual observer, seem to possess a great deal of knowledge, so they accept what that artist says as legitimate. And to some degree, that artist’s knowledge may be legit, but only to a point. Because there are so many people wanting Poly tattoo, they come to Hawaii, for example, and assume that all tattoo artists in Hawaii, understand Polynesian tattoo, and that is simply not the case. Many artists that I have talked with about this subject are fine with knowing only a little bit and changing it up here and there for different people. To me, that is lazy minded. When you look at the portfolio of artists like this, all of their work looks the same, with little to no uniqueness or individuality apparent.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

If you could be tattooed by any artist who would it be?

This is a tough one. I would probably say, Dmitriy Samohin. Or, Khan.

Do you attend any tattoo shows or conventions? If so which are you planning to attend?

Yes, I do try to do a spring and summer tour and maybe one in the fall. This year I did Chicago and Galveston for my spring tour and will do the Hawaii convention and the Las Vegas show. I’ll likely do the New Orleans show again in the fall. Next year I will do Baltimore again and try the Philly show in the spring. It’s hard to travel from Hawaii to anywhere on the mainland because I have to fly 6 hours just to get to there. Then it’s another 5 or 6 hours depending on how far East I go. So I have to pick and choose the shows that I want to attend wisely.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

What can we expect to see from you in the future?

I am constantly trying to become a better artist and learn as much as I can. I never want to think that I’ve learned it all. If that ever happens, I will stop tattooing.
I will be doing some Polynesian related videos on YouTube and I have been streaming live from my shop, during sessions and will continue to do so.
I have been working with Eikon on a new tattoo skin cleanser and have been helping them launch the product, Electrasyn, so more of that moving forward.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

Best way for someone to book an appointment with you?

The best way is through my site, Roland Pacheco Website, or to call my shop, 808-884-5756 and leave a name and number.

Roland Pacheco Tattoo

Include here anything else you would want us to include in the article – awards, upcoming promotions, events, etc…

I won an award for best use of tribal when I first started out, but I don’t concern myself with that kind of stuff now. If it happens, it happens, but I don’t plan on stuff like that; it’s too distracting.
I really want to help to bring Polynesian tattoo out of the darkness, so to speak, and into the light. As this style becomes more popular, I feel that it is important to understand the intention behind the symbols and how to use them properly. I would love to do seminars or to speak to those interested on a larger scale.

So if you are in Hawaii or plan to travel to the big island make sure to check out Roland Pacheco. Make sure to follow him on social media on Facebook and on Twitter @Roland_tattoo.


~ ☠  AnoTat2 
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