Imagine tattooing at one of the most famous shops in the world and deciding one day that there are more important things in life. You quit your job, sell all of your possessions, buy an old camper, and drive across the country, your dog riding shotgun as you both scan the horizon, looking for enlightenment.
This is exactly what Albert Martinez did, and he hasn’t looked back since. “I recently spent about three months on the road, taking my time. It was a pilgrimage and very much so a spiritual quest,” says Martinez. “Traveling helps me look inward and change perspective. Exposure to different cultures, art, architecture, nature, and so on is always formative in to an artist. Inspiring.”
Though he now spends his days tattooing, listening to punk rock, chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, and practicing Jiu Jitsu, Martinez recalls being the aimless student who smelled like weed doodling in the back of the classroom. “I always had a sketchbook with me and was hacking away at something, so the visual attraction was there, but the time tattoos really struck a chord with me was the first time I watched the music video for ‘Punishment’ by Biohazard on Headbangers Ball,” says Martinez. “From that time on, my biggest influence in tattoos came from hardcore punk bands and from my older cousin that grew up in the same scene and is a tattooer as well.”
Like many disaffected individuals during the early ‘90s, he found solace in the teachings of Hinduism, which he stumbled across in music from the Krishnacore movement. “The first time I ever heard about anything having to do with Krsna [Krishna] was from the hardcore punk band Shelter,” Martinez recalls. “I had a cassette tape my cousin recorded for me that I listened to all of the time. Throughout the years, it's changed my ways of thinking and dealing with hurt, anger, and my ego.”
Since first discovering the life-changing potential of Hare Krishna, Martinez has taken up other activities that shape his sense of spirituality. “Going deeper into the world of Bhakti yoga has reiterated how temporary life is and how attachment to material life and status is an infinite illusion — Maya,” Martinez explains. “Also the chanting and mantra meditation has allowed me to reach a more consistent meditative state.” For him, yoga and creating art are both forms of devotional meditation that enable him to peer through the superficiality of the world.
Alongside using rituals and creating body art as way to enhance religious worldview, Martinez also practices Jiu Jitsu to center himself. In this form of hand-to-hand combat, it’s believed that efficiency, control, and patience lead to success in all aspects of life, and these principles which align perfectly with his lifestyle and approach to tattooing.
Ultimately, Martinez’s life and work illustrates how spirituality holds the key to unlocking one’s own artistic potential. He exemplifies how people can aspire to moksha — a complete liberation of the creative self — if they devotedly nurtures their atmans (i.e. souls) through making art, participating in rituals, and traveling the world.