FACES: House of Wax Play

Sanchez tattooing a client at Black Palm Tattoo. (Ashley Hern)

Tattoo artist Elexa Sanchez delves into her practice of BDSM-inspired tattoo imagery

Noise erupts while walking through the quiet and being guided through a set of stairs leading to a somewhat golden door like a blinded lamb. While being on the second floor, movement travels in the form of dips and falls. The lemon-colored entrance leads to a centerstage with a large, bright silver instationary pole. One dancer is showing another certain terminology and poses to glide across the pillar like a graceful ballet dancer.  The sounds were of plummeting dancers falling off from a paradise up above.

These sensory explosions are hidden and cramped inside a two bedroom apartment complex in Placentia, California being leased by a 21 year old tattooer with a hobby that includes bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission. Elexa Sanchez’s living room is an animate, breathing example of feng shui: the walls are decorated in an eggshell-white which contrast the center stage where the pole exists along with its foundation. The residence and its demeanor feels like a magic trick; the loud music inside quickly contradicts the quiet, peaceful dark encroaching the entire experience.

“BDSM is truly about nurturing and being nurtured,” Sanchez says when explaining her hobby with her own words. “BDSM does not have to be entirely sexual or penetrative. I went to a goth bar in Los Angeles and was flogged in their upstairs playroom for about 10 minutes. It was one of the best experiences I have had so far.”

Multiple hung objects embellished in both rough and soft leather rest above her dark bed frame. The restraining intention of the largest of the objects, a rectangular pole with shackles attached on each opposite end, was being demonstrated by the expert dancer. There is a form of perpendicular balance that comes into fruition when a horizontal tool can be incorporated into a vertical pole dancing routine.

Sanchez’s pronunciation of certain words linger due to the different tones caused by her bifurcated tongue. She explains how her exposure to art began at an early age due to her father’s profession as a mural painter; furthermore, she has studied under her first mentor, Devin Fitzgerald, for almost five years at Golden State Tattoo. Some of her favorite subjects to draw or tattoo are gendered figurines that are coincidentally involved in her favorite pastime besides tattooing.

“I did not understand the idea behind latex kinks, until I tried a tight, latex skirt,” explains Sanchez. “The skirt was able to reproduce and manipulate even the smallest movement my body would make consciously and unconsciously. BDSM is a self discovery in a way, if you really think about it.”

An ebony-hued candle and its wick steal the limelight through its magnetism to a vibrant flame. Its purpose is simple yet alchemic. To obtain amusement involves the equivalent exchange of burnt human flesh.

Within her tattoo portfolio, multiple twists to black and grey Chicano, neo-traditional, traditional and anatomic art styles can be distinguished that focus on a dominant and recurring theme of BDSM. Sanchez improvises designs for clients just like a dom choreographs their sequence of bittersweet gesticulation without premeditation.

“Both of these practices are a form of art that visually shows a person’s thought process,” she asserts. “There is something exciting about being able to see how a person’s mind works, kind of like solving a puzzle piece by piece.”

Sanchez explains that there is a liberating agent to conceptualizing a client’s BDSM influenced designs for herself and her patron. Intrigued by curiosity, she finds herself asking them why they chose that specific element in the spectrum of bondage, discipline, domination, sadism or masochism.

The emergence of Andreas Wismeijer and Marcel van Assen’s scientific research, “Psychological Characteristics of BDSM Practitioners,” contradicts the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders inclusion of BDSM as an unusual sexual fixation and has shifted the social taboo and perception towards such a practice.

Sanchez clarifies that practicing BDSM with the appropriate boundaries and a partner who listens can help those who have felt powerless in sexual experiences previously to gain both confidence and power from their experiences. Multiple articles similar to Jolene Sloan’s article in Sexualities titled “Ace of (BDSM) clubs: Building asexual relationships through BDSM practice,” suggest that practicing BDSM has given several individuals from multiple sexual backgrounds the appropriate tools to navigate and define their sexual experiences and behaviors.

“There is something incredibly powerful about being able to dictate and control the experiences you or your chosen partner are put through,” Sanchez says. “Practicing BDSM has made me incredibly aware of my personal boundaries and my ability to experiment physically.”

Sanchez currently tattoos and manages at Black Palm Tattoo in Orange. She is the only female counterpart of the team and works alongside tattooers Jordan Yescas, Andrew Castruita, Joey Cox, and Aaron Cox.