Something that’s very intriguing to me, is that despite the massive amount of individuals interested in realism tattoos, there are really only a small handful of collectors who have full, *quality* black and grey coverage.
One of these few goes by the name of Monte, and although his collection itself is recognized worldwide, most people still don’t know all too much about him because he is completely off the grid and incredibly mysterious.
In this article, I got the chance to talk to the legendary Robert Pho about his prized and utterly dedicated collector Monte who has one of the absolute greatest bodysuits in the entire game in my humble opinion.
Here we talked about a variety of subjects, including the bond between an artist and a dedicated client, difficulties when designing a full bodysuit, insightful advice for individuals wanting to obtain a top-notch collection, and other specifics about the mysterious Monte who has taken home a countless amount of awards for his body mural by Robert Pho.
I hope you guys enjoy the read.
How often were you tattooing Monty? How many hours and how many sessions?
Once a week for two and a half years straight. I mentioned to him that I was booked out about 6 months in advance and he didn’t want to wait. He asked to get in sooner. I had only one day off a week at that time which was on Sundays. So I explained to him the only way to get in sooner is if I booked you on my only day off. He offered to make it worth my while. I talked it over with the wifey and she gave me the green light to do it. And from that moment on, I booked every sundays of the week for him until we completed it. I had no days off for two and a half years besides holidays, birthdays, etc…
Why do you think Monty decides to be so off the grid?
I’m not sure. He’s a busy man. And very private. You gotta respect that. Not everyone wants to Share or put their business out to the world like that. Crazy to think though right? People would die to have a body suit like his and be able to share that with the world.
What project would you say you are most proud of in Monty’s collection? My personal favorite part of it is his back piece.
Oh God. There are so many on him it’s hard to pick just one. The gangster leg I will always enjoy the most. That leg was always a big hit on social media and at expos.
How much of Monty’s bodysuit was free reign? Or did he decide on a lot of the imagery himself?
I would say majority of his bodysuit was free reign. When we did his family leg, he gave me 5 photos to use for that leg but that was it. Everything else was based on a theme of what he liked. He wanted a gangster theme for his other leg. Then for his arms he wanted a clown theme and a Greek mythology theme. And the rest I came up with and ran with it. The layout and designing was all up to me. That’s as free reign as can be for an artist.
Can you tell me a little about some of the most memorable conversations you had with Monty, if anything stands out to you? Can you talk a little bit about who he is, if you feel comfortable?
From what I know of Monte he was a very shy, quiet but personable guy. I know he was very well-to-do guy by the way he dressed and carried himself. I knew he had served time and had a rough childhood growing up. He had one brother who got killed and another brother who is serving life without parole in which I tattooed both of their portraits on him. I know he is a family man. He’s also a businessman and had all kinds of businesses.
We became good friends over the years and did a few things together. But overall he’s a man of a few words.
On January 2017 I was working on a client at my shop. We had guest artists Kore Flatmo and Ricardo Avila over tattooing as well. We were all having a bbq and grilling in the back of the shop and I get a text from Monte out of nowhere and he sends me 4 pictures of his 4 first place trophies from Golden State Expo in Pasadena Ca. I was so shocked. I didn’t even know he had attended cause I wasnt able to go. He wanted to surprise me and he did. But wow it was such a humble feeling that he had won all first places in the black and grey categories. That was very memorable for me.
Describe to me what you have witnessed as far as Monty going to conventions. What people have said, the looks he’s gotten, comments you’ve heard, etc.
The first thing I always notice is that he is stopped by every one to see his body suit. People would bring other people to come over and look at it. People take pictures of his work the entire day. Seeing peoples faces when they see it first hand for the first time in awe and disbelief. In admiration. Makes me feel very humble. I have seen and heard collectors ask if he was going to enter? And if he is, that they’re not gonna bother entering against him. Lol. I have also witnessed huge famous collectors lose against him whine and complain to judges just being sore losers. I have seen haters just hating on him.
In my opinion Monty has one of the absolute best bodysuits the world has ever seen. Do you think another collector of yours will achieve a suit close to as good as his? Describe to me a little bit about how difficult it is to accomplish what you and Monty have done together.
I appreciate that so much and it means a lot coming from a collector as yourself. I am working on several bodysuits right now. It’s hard to compare because they’re all very different. Like the suit i was working on on my brother. It’s nice too but different from Monte’s. It is very challenging and difficult when creating these bodysuits because it takes a vision. Of course finding the right references and planing on how to mesh and blend to make it all flow. And the dedication and focus you have to spend. Can’t lose track. It’s def not easy. But I have plans on working on projects as comparable to his bodysuit. It’s in the works now.
Top 3 best pieces of advice for other collectors/artists hoping to achieve a bodysuit as beautiful as Monty’s?
- Have a vision by planning it all out and spend a lot of time researching for the right references, ideas, etc…What are you going to do that’s different than other artists?
- Focus and Grind. Always give 100% of your focus and work on it until it is done. If one day you slack with design, size, placement, or technical, it will show. It’s easy to lose focus. Stay focused.
- Be Consistent. Equipment, ink, supplies changes all the time. The longer you wait to work on it, it may not look the same. So it’s very important to finish as soon as you can do it.
What were the top 3 lessons you and he learned along the way during the bodysuit journey?
- Not tattooing at expos. Not to say it’s not the thing to do but for me, I can only be in my zone and focus best when I’m by myself in a less busy environment. I have a few mistakes when tattooing him at expos. You easily lose focus and the pressure is insane.
- Give yourself some room. A lot of times we had to stop too early or didn’t come to a great stopping point because he would have to leave at certain times every session to catch his flight on that same day. So a lot of times we had to rush the session. Give yourself time. Don’t fly out on the same day of your tattoo. Last thing we want to do is feel rushed.
- Get your old tattoos removed before getting tattooed. If you have old tattoos that will need to be covered up, make sure you laser remove it first to get it light enough before getting tattooed and give it enough time to heal. Monte would laser remove other parts of his old tattoos right after every session with me. And every laser session would take about an hour because he had so much to remove. That is just a lot of pain to deal with in one session. And remember this guy’s body never got to heal for two and a half years because he came in once a week.
Can you talk a little bit about the bond you and Monty established over the years, as artist and client…What does that relationship feel like to you, and can you talk about the importance for the artists and collectors sake of building that rapport together and why that is beneficial for the overall end goal.
For me as an artist it is very important to have the best possible relationship with my clients. It’s not just doing a tattoo. We naturally form some sort of bond. The bond that me and Monte established over the course of two and a half years working together is unbreakable. The respect and appreciation we have for one another is something special. Even though we both have our busy schedules we still keep in touch and when we see each other it’s always a blast talking stories and looking at his art that I created.
What would you say are a few of the most difficult aspects of designing an entire body suit?
The most difficult task for me when designing a body suit is when I deal with coverups. Fortunately for us we have a laser removal machine that helps lighten the old tattoos. But it was especially hard in Monte’s case because I wasn’t able to design the entire thing all at once because of the old tattoo. Even though I knew I was going to cover up all of his older tattoos, I still had to wait for him to finish with his laser removal in order for me to see the final canvas before I started designing the coverup. Does that make sense? I had to design everything in different sessions whenever the canvas was ready to go.
When you look at other collectors bodysuit, what are a few of the things that you feel are most important in order to consider it a top-notch collection like Monty’s?
When I look at a collector’s bodysuit. It’s usually a collage of art. The tattoo world is used to that. There is nothing wrong with that. It’s your body and viewers have to respect it. But if I had to say what would make it even more top-notch is the design flow and blending of the artwork. But it’s almost impossible to do this because every artists work is different. What I would suggest for the next level collector to do, is to pick out all of your artists that you would like to collect from. Have them all be involved in the designing process of the bodysuit and then one at a time get your tattoo done by each of the artists. This way it will all be pre-planned, and you will have a body suit that is top notch as the end result with not only the technical aspects from the artists but the design and flow now have an appealing look and it will be more soothing for the viewers eyes.
Thank you to anyone who took the time to read/view this article, hope you enjoyed.
Also a huge thank you to Robert for his time. Be sure to follow him on Instagram @robert_pho and @skindesigntattoos.