Well-known tattoo artist Manu Farrarons moved to Los Angeles over two years ago to work in one of the most popular tattoo studios in this Californian city. This son of the fenua currently exposes and highlights all the beauty of Polynesian tattooing. Here is an introduction.
“There, you have your grandmothers. Here, you have dance and travel. Is this what you were envisioning?” Sitting on a leather chair across from his client, Manu Farrarons, now over 40, places his color marker on his work table. In fluent English touched with a slight accent, this Polynesian tattoo artist takes the time to have a conversation before injecting the ink into Jessica’s ankle. She is an American ’Ori Tahiti dancer (’Ori Tahiti is traditional Tahitian dance).
This attractive 27 year-old didn’t hesitate to drive many miles to meet the person who would permanently ink her skin. She came all the way to Los Angeles from Anaheim where her dance group is based in order to receive a tattoo from this Polynesian artist whose unique style merges skill, grace and femininity. “I love his work. All that he does is unique and makes sense. He is a true artist,” she says while reclining on one of the chairs at the Royal Heritage Tattoo Shop. Like many others, she had to book almost five months beforehand in order to get her appointment.
Since his arrival in Los Angeles in 2015, Manu Farrarons’ schedule has not ever cleared up. This tattoo artist is booked several months in advance, so it is impossible to just get a walk-in tattoo. This is also the case with other artists in the shop, which is a true nest of American talent.
Talent for sale
Located at the corner of S. Crescent Heights Boulevard and W. 3rd Street in one of the hippest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Royal Heritage Tattoo is notorious in the U.S. for its renowned artists. Here, no one copies any work. Each tattoo is unique, each design is a work of art and each artist has a particular specialty. Manu Farrarons works with three other artists, most of whom are women. But not much impresses this Polynesian who stands out as the only one who tattoos free hand.
He does not use stencils and he draws directly onto the skin before tattooing. This expertise elicits the admiration of his colleagues, who despite their skills, do not create free hand tattoos. This capability is just one of the many qualities for which Manu was brought from Tahiti to work in this shop. Although Samoan tattoos have gained much popularity in California over the past few years as well as throughout the rest of the USA and the world due to certain celebrities sporting them, Polynesian tattooing is right on the heels of its Samoan cousin. “There was not yet a specialist in Tahitian or Marquesan tattoos although there was a demand. Ever since I moved here, it has been extremely successful. I try to bring a fresh twist with my personal touch.” From Europe, Africa and even French Polynesia…clients don’t hesitate to travel many miles and even cross oceans to receive a tattoo from Manu Farrarons, who learned from the Polynesian school of tattooing.
In front of an audience of students and professors, he spoke of the history of the practice of tattooing: missionary prohibition of tattooing in French Polynesia, tattoo revival during the 1980s and its evolution up until now. His Polynesian wife, bilingual after pursuing her studies in Australia, helped him write his presentation in correct English. When he arrived in Los Angeles, he brought her with him.
Today, the couple rents an apartment in Hollywood Hills, one of the most hip and coolest areas of Los Angeles. However, it is also one of the most artsy. A self-proclaimed art buff, Manu Farrarons loves to cruise around in his new car, a 1974 Malibu Classic, to stop at almost every street corner to contemplate the various sizes of murals that grace the walls of the city. “Art is everywhere here. It is in the streets, but also in the museums and numerous galleries. It inspires me,” the tattooist enthusiastically states, in constant awe at the quality of the art in L.A.
A quest to explore the United States
Passionate and curious, Manu Farrarons has felt like a fish in water in this city that is somewhat difficult to master due to its sheer immensity. Since Los Angeles is the second largest city after New York, it could very quickly bring on feelings of isolation. However, this tattooist has many resources. An artist at heart, he is also a seasoned musician. He is a bass player who particularly appreciates the music scene of this city that has seen the birth of stars and is still home to artists of international fame.
He loves to be carried away by the funk scene every Friday night at Rosalind’s Ethiopian Restaurant or to be taken away by the rock music held in the old Fonda Theater founded in 1920. So that he never misses any of the artistic events around town, Manu scours the LA Weekly, a free magazine over L.A. arts and culture. Even though he leads a rich and deep artistic life since his arrival in California, he has never lost his need for nature. “Here, there is so much space. You can drive anywhere. Last December, we left with other tattooist friends for the snow. It was amazing!” Southern and Northern California, Florida, Nevada…Manu regularly takes off with his wife on a quest to explore this enormous territory of the United States, always in his old Malibu.
The Polynesian school
After a career as a school teacher on the fenua (Tahitian word for the homeland—French Polynesia) where he lived for over 36 years, Manu Farrarons quickly swapped his pencil for a needle. Following a “pilgrimage” to the Bishop Museum in Hawaii in the 1990s to do research over Polynesian tattooing, this budding artist went back to Tahiti with articles translated from the famous 19th century German anthropologist Karl Von Den Steinen and Hardy and Hardy, an explorer couple. Their works over Polynesian tattooing, of which the most known is still the Marquesan tattoo, allowed him to revive it from the ashes.
Through discovering the richness of this type of tattooing, its symbols and their significance, Manu Farrarons developed a passion that is constantly expanding—to the point that he integrated Marquesan designs into the curriculum for his young students.
In 2003, he finally resigned his position as a school teacher in order to dedicate himself fulltime to tattooing. He took over his father Jordy’s tattoo shop, which was one of the first ones to open in Tahiti. Very quickly, he became successful. “I threw all my father’s designs in the trash, as he copied and pasted. I didn’t like this way of doing things. For me, tattooing must be unique to each individual because each tattoo tells that person’s story.” Manu found his own style and developed it. Once a client arrives, he/she tells Manu about an idea for the tattoo. They discuss it together since it is up to him, the artist, to design the tattoo. His way of doing things has inspired a good number of young Polynesian tattooists to come into Manu’s shop to learn from him before opening their own. With the arrival of social networks and his participation in several tattoo festivals, this artist gained an international reputation that led to the day he was offered a position in California.
Representative of Polynesian culture
Although he has been far away from his fenua, Manu Farrarons still remains a representative of Polynesian culture. First through tattooing, followed by his conversations with clients which arouse a sudden curiosity for the beauty of our islands, then through the transmittal of his knowledge. His in-depth expertise about Polynesian tattooing attracts university departments. Last April, the artist was invited to participate in a seminar over this type of tattooing held at California State University, Channel Islands in Camarillo, Ventura County.