Alesha Aquino on
Toronto, Canada: where
7 mins: read time
Sitting in the room beneath the three headed lamp which illuminates my body as her current work surface; I am also sitting beneath the eyes of her goddesses. They move across canvases, her walls and pose as plaster sculptures. Alesha tattoos out of a home studio where a fireplace mantel is decorated with plants in vases of water, photos of relatives, decorative objects and art works she has collected. All details seems considered and never left lacking. Her narrative works explore a realm developed by an awareness of her Philippina heritage and the spiritual influence of a religious upbringing. Her most recent installation for the Gladstone Hotel’s Come Up to My Room, told the story of SUNUGIN. A god-demon and a star in the sky whose body burned and simmered in coal and suffering until she decided to lighten herself and free the fire within. The exhibit was strung with garlands of colourful hair and laser cut hands danced along the walls between the narrative paintings.
I have gotten a few hand poke tattoos from Alesha each one a piece of the pink eco-system on my body that she is helping to build. With Alesha, I have found us talking about and around the process of both our work often. Here is a glimpse at some of the conversation we had while she stippled the most recent pink clouds around my arm.
Drawing and painting are what everyone resorts to when they don’t know what else to do. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but it is more about something you can turn to, to get your mind off of things. My best stuff comes out when I am just doodling. When I try to sit down and paint I can get too frustrated. I always draw the same things, either eyes, faces or hands. It is kind of hard to get out of that when it is what I have been doing my whole life. When I was a kid, the first thing I would doodle would be an eye. I think when I started doing sculptural and tapestry things it was because I didn’t have to think about all that stuff. I was able to think more about the material.
Some of the same content still comes through in those materials.
I know! I know! In a different way, I think it is the execution of it. I still represent hands with the plaster and I still have the sun/moon/nature vibe with my tapestries but it is not too obvious. If you compare my sculptures to my drawings they will make sense but separately they can feel different. I am still trying to figure that out.
Do you like tattooing because it can be a simpler version of the illustration, more like doodling?
I think I like tattooing because it turns my drawings into something more physical. It is sharing. I think right now I am staying away from painting because it feels like just paint on canvas or pen on paper. I like sculpture because it is a tangible thing. In the same sense, I am putting ink on skin but it is a living thing, part of a person and that doesn’t necessarily belong to me anymore. It belongs to the person who is that body.
I have been to two other tattoo artists lately who have apologized to me in advance or during the tattoo process that they would be infecting pain on me.
I have felt that getting tattoos and especially from you has been really healing. While there is a little physical pain I would say the healing far outweighs a physical pain. But what do you think about the idea that this is in a way inflicting pain on someone?
Yeah of course. I have had multiple people ask me, “Is it going to hurt”. Yes! Of course, it is going to hurt, I am putting a needle in your skin. I have had a couple of people ask me how bad it is going to hurt, well that depends too. These are people who are inquiring about tattoos and are not sure. I have had people ask if I offer numbing cream. No. They have asked if I would allow them to use some when getting tattooed. That is fine, I am not going to tell you not to if you can’t take the pain. But if you can’t take pain don’t get a tattoo. I think the pain of it is the best part. That sounds kind of sadistic in a way. Whenever I get a tattoo being able to endure this pain and seeing the result is so satisfying. Tattoos were done by our ancestors for rituals or to celebrate certain things. I think that pain brings you closer on a healing level. You are putting yourself through this shit but you are coming out like a warrior. You are a person who went through all this pain and now you are coming out with this beautiful adornment on you that will last forever. It is like wearing a battle scar or a badge. It is actually a scar. I don’t mean to be badass about it but just take the pain. It is going to be so worth it in the end. It is a reflection on life as well, you have to be able to endure it to realize how good your life is fully, when you can come out of it.
Audio recorded 03.07.2019
Image courtesy of Alesha
I just realized looking at this [a mural on her wall] that you tattoo your goddesses.
Yeah, there are so many stories in me. I think of them as mini me’s or bigger than me me’s * laughs*. They are beings in me that are trying to get out. I always liked telling stories. When I was a kid I would make maps and build these worlds. When I would draw landscapes I would draw faces on the suns and trees. It is kind of funny how we return back to our childhood selves in our creative endeavours. Creating worlds and things. I thought I was just figuring it out now but I realized I have been doing that my whole life.
Do you believe in Aliens?
I have no specific reason to other than the fact that it seems impossible that there is no other life form or other space with life forms.
Yeah, that's how I see it too.
I was listening to a scientist Richard Feynman talking about how matter is so small and the universe is so big but we exist somewhere in the middle. He was explaining how we can find a way to see the smallest matter but we find something smaller, and that they can see far into the universe but it gets bigger. Like we will never be able to see the smallest or biggest point, we aren’t supposed to. Maybe it will continue getting smaller and keep getting bigger so it just grows according to being seen.
We will never get the answer. None of us will ever know what happens when you die.
Do you believe in aliens?
Yeah, I think for the same reason you do. It is kind of ignorant for us to think that we are the only ones. There have just been so many phenomena that we just can’t explain. There has to be a reason for them. I also think that a lot of the gods we hear in myths are humans too.
Yeah, and Jesus. I was just at the ROM and they had an exhibit on for Lunar New Years. It was called Gods in My Home: Chinese New Year with Ancestor Portraits and Deity Prints. Every time a family member passed away they would mark their name. If you were richer you could get their portrait painted onto this scroll. I was thinking about how people believe that when you die, your soul lingers around for a while. People give offerings to their dead family members like money and objects to have in the after life. You can hold the loved ones in a certain light and paint them like deities because they are in that spiritual realm. I remember this lady on Spadina had a shrine who looked like a god of war. She said it was Lieutenant so and so who was one of the bravest warriors. So this was a person who has reached a deity level for living as a masculine being who killed so many people. Well, if we just reach a certain level towards something we can all be gods. Like saints and martyrs. Even Buddha he was just a human who sat under a tree and got to a godlike state through his enlightenment. Gods, they are just like us.
Interview and photography by Alexis Venerus
Additional photography from Alesha
Follow her on instagram @aaqart