Isa Es Asi is a tattoo artist and an extraordinary woman, with an incredible story to tell: so much travel (India, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Turkey, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Japan) and a love for art “since forever”.
Here we are not just speaking about tattoo, but a philosophy of life and and all-consuming passion. We are so glad we were able to have this virtual chat with her and are proud to present her to you here today! Also because she leaves us with an important message: “Art from the heart is a vital ray of light to be shared in these dark times” and we could not agree more with her.
Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m known as Isa Es Asi which in Spanish means Isa is like this. I’m a tattooist, painter and artist in general, since forever. I call my poster creations ‘Nazarwala’ which for me means ‘the gazing one’, the one with the kind gaze. It’s the gaze through which I view the animals and people that I paint. I grew up in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in France and my winged feet took me to India, Scandinavia, the Balkans, Turkey, USA, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, etc. I’ve travelled the world and the seven seas and kept my home-base in Andalucia for many years, which might account for my fondness of vivid expression. I tattooed at Lyle Tuttle’s Tattoo studio and museum, in San Francisco for a couple of happy years.
Also in Rota, Spain, near the American naval base, at Gian Mauricio Fercioni’s Queequeg Tattoo Studio in Milan and ran my own studio in Malaga, Spain, among many other travelling tattoo adventures. In between I enjoyed many different occupations, milking goats in the Andalusian mountains, answering the phone in four languages at a renowned escort service in Amsterdam and bullfighting in Mexico and Spain.
When did you start tattooing and how would you define your style?
I started apprenticing at the age of 15 at Hanky-Panky’s tattoo shop in Amsterdam, in the early 80s when there were only two studios in the city. The legendary Tattoo Peter and our place, in a cellar under a ganja coffee shop in the heart of the red-light district. I was baptized ‘Morbella’ by my mentor in those days.
I was the first female tattooist of Amsterdam in a male-dominated trade.
While I was learning the style was what was expected of commercial tattoos in those times. Yingyang symbols, marijuana leaves, small eagles, and so on. Soon the tattoo scene exploded and we tattooers started making worldwide contacts. The first tattoo conventions were organized and artists from all cultures came together to promote their tattoo styles, we all learned from each other and got inspired. That’s when the fusion started. There were Japanese, Thai, Maori, Polynesian, Borneo, Traditional American, Chicano, Indian, Berber and other styles from around the world to learn, to choose and to grow with. Those were great times of discovery. I started to develop preferences, travel, and discover my personal talents. I’ve kept learning and expanding ever since, though my style remains recognizably my own.
Has it changed over time?
Evolution is key to revolution. Over time I’ve added different media to my bag of tricks. I got into painting, illustration, writing and telling stories in comic format. I’m glad I have a large variety of means of self-expression. The mainstream tattoo scene has changed so much, it is flooded with energy and imagery that really doesn’t appeal to me. I did discover that tattoos done by hand make for a much gentler experience. More expressive lines, faster healing, a simpler slower process, more soul and consciousness and a lot less violence in general. That appeals to me.
Is it important for you to also paint and draw, besides tattooing?
As a tattoo artist, it used to be important to draw correctly. Nowadays, I don’t know if people still draw, or they are just really good at copying. I was never obedient enough to copy, so either the art is allowed to come from within me, or I don’t engage. It it’s not my mission to make fast, picture-perfect tattoos, done with the latest technical gadgets, resulting in uniform decorations that make people look like designer furniture.
Through painting, I can do what I want and feel, which makes my clients very happy.
There’s an interaction of analyzing the innermost emotions of the person I’m working with to the best of my understanding. And that is inspiring. Tattooing used to be like that, an intimate conversation between artist and client, resulting in the perfect imagery to represent that person. Without drawing skills this would not be possible. A copy is a copy is a copy, but the real thing comes from within.
What are your favourite subjects and techniques?
When it comes to art in general, I like to do very personalized portraits of people and animals, with all the important details of the person’s life represented. I work in acrylic or poster colours on paper or canvas, usually in a size that can be scanned for posters and postcards. Sometimes I do some linocut prints for t-shirts and I also like quill-pen and ink. I write and illustrate articles for magazines and illustrate stories and book covers for other authors. When it comes to tattoos, I like to do individual pieces, with personal meaning, be it magical, rebellious or sentimental.
Where did the idea of this eBook come from?
I’m Old-School from when the school was old, I didn’t grow up with E-of any kind. In my times there were no cell phones or computers, believe it or not. When I wanted to call my grandma in the village, I had to walk to the nearest red-light sex-shop who owned the only land-line telephone in the neighbourhood. So the e-book idea is yours! It’s a great idea! I have a good drawing hand and enjoy creating flash, so I’m glad my e-book reaches a lot of people. It can inspire those who are not as confident in their drawing skills. It is also an excellent addition to the collections of fellow artists and a treasure for those who value what’s genuine in tattooing. The designs are a selection of flash that I’ve drawn over the years, ancient as time and modern as tomorrow, for your pleasure only. Flash is fun!
What are your projects for the future?
We live in very strange times indeed. It seems all projects are on hold, while we all wait in awe for the next global threat, drama, lockdown, prohibition and mysterious set of new laws and rules. As far as projects for the future, what can I say? I will keep drawing, painting, writing and am looking forward to creating projects with tattoo clients. Together we will enjoy the buzzing of a proper coil machine or the discreet rhythm of a handmade tattoo. I’m fortunate with good friendships, in and out of the tattoo scene.
At present, I am delighted to share inspiring moments with the legendary Lard Yao Peter who only tattoos by hand. He brought traditional Sakyant and Khemsak to Europe when he left LardYao prison, aka The Bangkok Hilton in the mid-90s. There are always some appreciative people looking out for me, buying my art or welcoming me to their studios. I’m fortunate to receive interesting commissions from all around the world: New York, Mumbai, Oslo, Europe and beyond, global Isaesasi-Morbella at your creative service. Give and take, live and learn, and don’t compromise on freedom. Art from the heart is a vital ray of light to be shared in these dark times.