Andy Lio is a Samoan tribal tattoo artist, pyrographer, father, and Matai chief of his place of origin. Born on the Samoan Islands, and raised in San Fransisco, California, Andy is a Polynesian immigrant and growing up in section 8 housing was not easy. To escape this vicious cycle, Andy joined the military and served three tours in the US Army. The military is where he first picked up a tattoo gun, and from there his art flourished onto the skin and beyond into wood. Andy lives and works in Colorado Springs, Colorado.


From a dark past in the Bay Area slums to uncovering his destiny as a Samoan Matai chief, Andy Lio has forged his path as a skilled Polynesian tattoo artist, pyrographer, and devoted father. Born in Samoa and transplanted to San Francisco, Andy had to navigate the path of immigration and develop his own cultural identity. His environment was harsh, yet he found security in the US military. Devoting three tours in the US Army, it was during his service that he began tattooing. His philosophy and technique have grown and years later, he has become a master at free-hand Polynesian designs.

Ink & Ember

Andy’s Samoan symbols extend beyond the skin. With the same reverence, Andy wields the pyrography pen as he burns into wooden canvases. He uses symbolic objects like the surfboard and boat oar as cultural vehicles for his designs. Each stroke is deliberate; each burns a chapter in his odyssey of cultural discovery.

Documentary Film

At the heart of our exhibition lies the soul-stirring documentary, “American Matai.” This cinematic voyage chronicles Andy’s pilgrimage back to Samoa after 32 years—a quest to reclaim his Matai chief birthright and to wear the revered pe’a, the sacred tapping-style full-body tattoo. Displayed are photographs of the film’s journey to the Pacific Islands and short video trailer of the film project so far. The documentary captures the raw emotion, the ancestral echoes, and the transformative power of tradition. As the camera follows Andy’s footsteps, we witness the indelible mark of culture upon his skin and learn about the rich culture of the Samoan Islands.

Preserving Culture & Igniting Inspiration

“American Matai” the exhibition celebrates the fusion of ancient Samoan tattooing traditions and the raw power of wood burning—a harmonious blend that resonates with the very essence of Andy’s life story. This is more than an exhibition; it’s a call to honor heritage, to ignite curiosity, and to celebrate the beauty of cultural expression. Andy’s journey mirrors that of countless immigrants—the delicate balance between assimilation and preservation. Through his art, he invites us to explore our own roots, to cherish the stories etched into our souls.

IG: @americanmatai