By Ellen Zoe Golden Photos courtesy Tony Armillota
If you thought there is no connection between scuba diving and tattooing, you’d be way wrong, as evidenced by Tamarindo’s Tony Armillotta. This Italian was drawn to town by the ocean, spent years working in it before transitioning to a second act as a popular tattoo artist at his shop Tattooanis. Today, he’s the happy husband of Angie—who he says was love at first sight—and the “privileged” father to 5-year-old daughter Alba.
After getting tattooed, THE Tamarindo News asked Armillotta a few questions.
THE Tamarindo News: Tell us a little history.
Tony Armillotta: I was born July ’77 in Northern Italy. At that time, mother Antonia was 17 years old and father Franco, 21 and, recently, they had emigrated from the South in search of new opportunities. Early on I felt that my soul made me travel to the ocean on the other side of the world: I played that I was diving deep and dreamt a lot, when, at the age of 3 I saw a picture of surf for the first time, since I was growing up in a big concrete jungle. I am tremendously grateful for things I learned from Italy, with its good and bad, but the call from Mama Ocean was always very strong. When I finished my studies, I did a year of service in the army paratroopers, I worked as a bartender and several other things to be able to get the ticket to Costa Rica on January 17, 1998. That was 20 years ago, a date I now celebrate more than my own birthday. I came with very little money, but I was filled with my great dream of being a professional diver, and surfing one of those waves.
TTN: What happened when you got to Tamarindo?
TA: Thanks to my Uncle Nardino, who with his partners Rita and Icho, all from Rozzano my town in Italy, I stayed at their Hotel Mamiri. On my second day, I registered at Aqua Rica Diving Center for my first Open Water course. I’m very grateful to my mentors Claudio “Pelon” Gallo and Antonieta “Tony Mujer” Onofri for taking me to the level of Dive Master, which allowed me to work in diving for the next five years. On my first dive to Catalinas, I saw my first shark in its natural environment, and as clear as water, I was watching my future.
TNN: Were you always an artist?
TA: Definitely not, although I had a strong inclination for the Arts. I wanted to know more about the art of Tattoo starting in 2003 because I needed a challenge. Exhausted from immersing myself in water every day my affinities to the Polynesian culture began to manifest. In my skin. I started tattooing myself little by little whenever I had the chance, in the oceanic style typical of Pacific cultures, until the moment arrived that I could not escape being able to learn to tattoo.
TNN: How did you train?
TA: In 2003, I returned to Milan, and you can imagine I suffered a lot away from my home in Tamarindo, but it was worth the effort to reach my goal. I got my first tattoo kit my friend Cesare “Grafika” Iannone, who told me to go to his mother’s house for a briefcase that he no longer used that had everything necessary for me. I trained in a famous Milan studio called Quetzal Tattoo, whose owner Angelone Colussi was my greatest inspiration as a character and tattoo artist. I learned from one of the best tattooists in the European Old School who has been awarded for the past 30 years as one of the top tattooists of the old continent. He welcomed me and forged me not only as an artist, but as a businessman. For five years, every season, I traveled to Milan to improve my skills with Colussi and other great artists of that studio, until finally I returned to live in Costa Rica as a permanent resident with my new skill as a professional tattoo artist. I never lost my passion for the ocean, and got my own fishing boat, with the help of one tattoo at a time.
TNN: Who are your clients?
TA: There are all kinds of clients who come to tattoo, from those who arrive and celebrate it as a whole ritual for their lives, to those who come for a souvenir on their skins. It always hurts a little, so some feel a little rebellious. I even receive whole families from grandchildren to their grandparents united by the ink on their skin and I love it, because it is not done as a hidden activity or with prejudices, as in the time when I began. Now it’s weird if you have not been tattooed yet.
TNN: In 20 years, how has Tamarindo changed?
TA: I was lucky to have known this tropical paradise as it was in its natural splendor. In ‘98, there were very few things and there was only work a few months of high season and the rest of the year, stay in Tamarindo was pure survival Wild On. I fished during those times. The following winter, I went to New York and worked in my Uncle Michele’s restaurant for a year with the sole motivation of returning to Tama and being able to buy a small lot. While in Paradise, I watched as the Twin Towers collapsed on TV, while Tamarindo began to plan theirs. Palm tree roofs were replaced by concrete types like Pacific Park. For many years, there were more workers than tourists, although today, it is the other way around. I have seen Tamarindo change from a small community of fishermen to become a mini city in continuous growth. Even so, I always see the positive side and I will always be grateful for this beautiful place at the playa. Just let’s look at where in the world we have the privilege of living and the importance of preserving the natural wealth. One of the strongest points of Tama is the growing tourism and the abundance. Currently, I manage together with my partner, Dennis Brenes, Tattooanis, one of the best studios in the country on the main street of Tamarindo and thanks to our growing clientele we continue to grow and improve at the same pace as the people. Strategically in the world, Tamarindo is still a wonderful territory, with an endless summer. Personally, it allows me to place myself among the happiest people on the planet, where I find, as Robert August says, the perfect balance between working hard and enjoying myself alongside the waves. In this country I am happy even when I pay taxes, and lately, I am processing and becoming like a Tico. And in summary, this will always remain my home. Gracias Doña Tamarindo, tá tuanis!