A LITTLE SLICE OF THE TRIBAL tattoo homelands arrived in Stanton, California, in August 2011. Without having to spend a dime on a plane ticket to some far-flung village, visitors arriving at Spiritual Journey Tattoo & Tribal Gallery are transported back into a time when every tattoo was worn as a spiritually-charged symbol infused with ancestral power.
Spiritual Journey is the creation of hand-poking guru Elle Festin, co-founder of the “Mark of the Four Waves Tribe” (Tatak Ng Apat Na Alon). Mark of the Four Waves Tribe is a global community of hundreds of men and women of Filipino heritage who seek to bring back the tattooing and cultural traditions of the many tribal peoples who once called the Philippine Islands home. Their tattoo artistry is black, bold, and beautiful and inspired by tribes like the Kalinga, Bontoc Igorot, Visayans, Ibaloi, Ifugao, and others who once reigned supreme over their traditional domains.
But the multicultural talent working at Spiritual Journey doesn’t just specialize in Filipino tattoo styles and techniques. Portraiture and Black and Grey (Samuel Flores), Indonesian tribal (Jurgen Martens), New Skool and photorealism (Josh Giovanni), are all equally available, and so too is hand-tapping. Notable guest artists and old friends Sua Suluape Toetuu Aisea (Soul Signature Tattoo, Honolulu) and Orly Locquiao (Humble Beginnings Tattoo, San Jose) often frequent the studio that one client said gives off a bahay kubo (Filipino grass hut) feel, since most of the bamboo walls are studded with tribal sculpture, jewelry, and artwork. Others have commented on the “home-like” atmosphere that exudes from SJ, probably because the interior lounge area invites you to become a part of the shop rather than feeling like a customer sitting by a front desk.
Attention to detail is what characterizes the art and vibe of the Spiritual Journey crew. The artists work closely with their clients to research family histories and life events to appropriately capture the essence of what they want in their tattoos. Many clients also take away valuable knowledge they weren’t expecting, like Antonio who was visiting from Riverside, CA:
“My heritage travels back to the Philippine Islands but I have lived in the U.S. my entire life. I felt it was almost impossible to learn about the culture of my ancestors as well as the place they called home. In schools the only time they mention the Philippines is in studying WWII or Spanish colonization. Elle taught me more about our Native language, tattoo culture, and warrior culture than I ever read in books. As an advocate of learning, awakening, teaching, and reviving Filipino customs and history, this is a great place to come, learn, and celebrate our roots.”
SPIRITUAL BEGINNINGS AND JOURNEYS
I have known Elle for a decade and remember when he broke the ice with traditional hand-tapping and hand-poking tools, instruments he handcrafts today. But prior to that, he first apprenticed with electric machines under Big Rock, former owner of The Speezy Tattoo in Los Angeles.
In 2008, Festin, his wife Zel, and I traveled to Kalinga Province in the Philippines to meet the last Kalinga tattoo artist, octogenarian Whang-Od, and the last generation of tattooed warriors – all WWII veterans. This trip had a deeply spiritual affect on Elle and at Whang-Od’s invitation he hand-poked the last great Kalinga tattoo master during the Tattooing (Batok) Festival we organized for some 60 elders. He said of that moment, “It was an incredibly inspirational experience and now, more than ever, I feel deep down in my heart that I should continue this revival for her and the many others who are seeking their culture and roots. I want to expose tribal tattooing’s great depth and beauty because the tribal pieces we make here at Spiritual Journey are not flash art you see on other shops’ walls. Rather, we create art that has an energy and life of its own and our clients are drawn to it because there are so many levels of meaning embodied within it.”
Aside from his experiences with Whang-Od and the Kalinga, I recently asked Elle what inspired him to create Spiritual Journey and how it has been received thus far:
“We’ve been open for almost a year and we have definitely been accepted by the wider LA and Orange County community. We are certainly not your typical establishment and we showcase a tribal art gallery in the front lobby. As you move into the workspaces, there is another virtual gallery in itself filled with historical art, photos, and traditional tattooing tools from the tribal world so people can become more educated about ancient tattoo practices, the roots of all tattooing culture. We have a guiding philosophy here at SJ and this is to encourage all who visit us that they have their own story to tell, and whether it is a family, cultural, or personal story we want to help our clients document it through the meaningful tattoos we create together.”
Spiritual Journey artist Jurgen Martens (“Jay”) is a newcomer to the salon, having been introduced by fellow tattooist Orly Locquiao. For Jay, every tattoo he creates is also a part of his own very personal story. He told me: “For me it is truly inspirational to work with people who want to express their personal life stories through sacred and lasting symbols that we create here. But I am also able to explore my Indonesian roots more deeply here at SJ because we’re involved in the revival of traditional tribal or ethnic tattoos from all over the world. And whether it is Latino Black and Grey, tribal African, Micronesian, or Dayak, we are continually exploring traditional styles, symbolism, and techniques to deliver the very best for our clients.”
Zel Mayo Festin, Elle’s wife, is another artist in the Spiritual Journey stable. She apprenticed with Elle for several years before picking up the iron two years ago about the time their daughter Kaya was born. A natural artist who has been sketching since kindergarten, Zel excels in large Blackwork pieces, henna-inspired designs, and other unique works taken from her travels and research in the Spiritual Journey/Mark of the Four Waves tribal library and photographic archives. Her many satisfied clients say that she has the lightest hands around and orchestrates her tattoos with a motherly touch.
Naturally, anyone who is interested in educating their clients about ancient tribal designs and their meanings needs to do their homework. So Elle has invested large amounts of money to acquire old and rare reference material, including books, photographs, and objects of material culture which his artists draw inspiration from to develop their tattoo designs. Some of these museum quality objects and books are available for all to see and read at Spiritual Journey.
The Spiritual Journey crew also feels that the tattoos they ink pay homage to the the indigenous peoples who created tattooing for us all in the first place, especially when tribal designs are created with traditional tools such as hand-poking or hand-tapping equipment. As Elle told me, “Each tap or poke is like a whisper from another time or place. We want to pay our deepest respect to those tribal artists who came before us, and that is why we give it proper ceremony and ritual when using these kinds of implements. Otherwise the practice of tattooing will be like an empty vessel, hollow and without meaning.”
To embark on your own spiritual journey, please visit or contact the studio and gallery for more information. You’ll not be disappointed!
Spiritual Journey Tattoo & Tribal Gallery
7159 Katella Ave.
Stanton, CA 90680
Tel. (714) 236.0583