The Polynesian perfectionist

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Tattoo artist Roland Pacheco displays his book, “Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLAND PACHECO)
Tattoo artist Roland Pacheco displays his book, “Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo.” (PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLAND PACHECO)
Tattoo artist Roland Pacheco of Xisle Tattoo in Hawi tattoos a traditional Marquesan design on a client. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLAND PACHECO)
“Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo” by Roland Pacheco. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLAND PACHECO)
A traditional Marquesan and Hawaiian sleeve by Roland Pacheco. (PHOTO COURTESY OF ROLAND PACHECO)

“I’ve been writing and producing art since as long as I can remember,” said Roland Pacheco, tattoo artist, graphic designer, author, and videographer. Pacheco is the owner of Xisle Custom Tattoo in Hawi, where he works five days a week creating art on the skin canvas of his customers.

“Ranch life was boring,” he said about his upbringing in Volcano. “My creativity was bottled up inside of me, and I had to get it out somehow.”

From drawing comics in his youth, to production art, being a creative director, and making web-based animation, Pacheco has successfully expressed himself in many genres of art over the past 20 years.

How did he end up in tattoo?

“I had never in my life wanted to be a tattoo artist,” said Pacheco. Eight years ago, he had a few tattoos of his own, was busy with life as a working artist, but hadn’t considered doing tattoo.

“It was just revealed to me,” said Pacheco. “Why don’t I do tattoo?”

That epiphany has led Pacheco to become much more than the typical ink-slinger. His personal interest in Polynesian tattoo motivated him to do research about the history and cultural significance of tattoo motifs.

“The primitive mindset was beautiful,” said Pacheco.

Polynesian people used symbols or motifs to represent their family, and the connections to their ancestors and to the natural world. These motifs, when carved into a canoe or placed on the body in the form of tattoo “bring the ancestors into the present,” said Pacheco.

After two years of anthropological research, Pacheco self-published a book in August called “Fundamentals of Traditional and Modern Polynesian Tattoo,” which elaborates on the history and symbolism of tattoo across the Polynesian triangle, from the Maori in New Zealand to Samoa, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Hawaii.

Pacheco’s goal was to learn only from primary sources, from visual and narrative documentation of the art of tattoo as it was practiced in pre-Western times.

“There is no other book like this,” said Pacheco. “I think I’ve done a good service to my culture and to the art of Polynesian tattoo,” he said.

The perception of tattoos in our modern culture has changed from a symbol of rebellion to an art form, said Pacheco.

In one of the newer reality competition shows on television called “Inkmasters,” tattoos artists compete for prize money through fast-paced artistic challenges a la “Project Runway.” Pacheco had auditioned for the show two years earlier, but was finally invited to be a contestant for the upcoming Season 4, which premieres on Spike TV on Feb. 25.

“It was crazy, it was challenging, but I came away feeling more confident about myself and my art work,” said Pacheco about the five weeks of filming in New York that required grueling 12-15 hour days. However, the challenges did not reflect the real world of tattooing and tattoo artists, said Pacheco.

“It wasn’t reality at all; they forced things for the sake of entertainment,” he said.

Looking to the future

Reflecting upon this art form that so uniquely ties together ancient history and modern pop culture, Pacheco predicts that tattoo will continue to evolve in the years to come.

“In 10 years, it will be insane to see where it will be,” he said.

Pacheco sees himself as the bridge between the past and the future.

“The art form is going to change and move forward, but I don’t want to lose the roots of where this came from,” he said.

Xisle Custom Tattoo is located in downtown Hawi, and is open from 12 to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. View his portfolio of tattoo art and learn more about him at his website Pacheco’s books are available in his shop or online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.