The Aloha Monkey Tattoo’s origins go far back in time, and far away from the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Although it is located in the Great State of Minnesota in beautiful Burnsville, it began long ago in Honolulu, where tattooing legend and master Sailor Jerry Collins lived and worked, creating work that would affect the art and tattoo world for decades to come.
Sailor Jerry was originally from Ukiah, California, but through his travels around the world eventually landed in Honolulu, Hawaii. There, through continually pushing himself to improve his eye and hone his artistic skills, he created a fusion of styles that blended the best of both traditional Japanese and American tattooing, the likes of which the world has never seen before. It was his strong style and originality that brought the attention of good friends Michael Malone and Ed Hardy to come to Hawaii and work with Jerry, where they learned to expand their tattooing abilities. Jerry was happy to teach such skilled and eager artists, as he saw them both as ‘torpedoes’ who would go back to the mainland and sink the plethora of what Jerry felt were unskilled tattooists who didn’t have the heart it takes to commit one’s self to his beloved art.
Unfortunately, in 1973 Sailor Jerry passed away from a heart attack. He left instructions for his wife to sell his shop to one of his prodigies. Mike Malone took the challenge, and moved from his spot at Zeke Owens’ Ace Tattoo in San Diego, California where he was working at the time, and plunged into the historical depths of Jerry’s old shop at 1033 Smith St. in Honolulu’s historic Chinatown district.
Mike renamed Jerry’s shop to “China Sea Tattoo”, which he owned and operated for decades, only moving for a short time to Austin, Texas in the 1980′s where he ran a shop for a short time while his crew held down the fort back in the Pacific. China Sea Tattoo continued the great traditions that Jerry started in its tiny, but mighty, location. The shop continued to offer strong, beautiful tattoos with roots firmly embedded in the traditions that make American tattooing some of the most recognized in the world, but with long growing branches to the future, so the work never becomes stagnant and stale. Mike’s work became known worldwide for being immediately eye-catching and colorful, but also appealing to a vast swath of different people from all walks of life. From bold, beautiful tattoos that covered the entire body to show all, to small mementos that were just for the wearer to have knowledge of, there was never anything like a Mike Malone tattoo.
Eventually, in the late 1990s, Mike became restless. Hawaii, while a beautiful place, was also very small. Mike wanted to live in a place where one could easily get to the rest of America with short trips by airplane or car, but still had enough of a small town feeling that he didn’t feel like he was blocked in by the overly corporate life that was becoming common in cities all over the world. Surprising even himself, he found such a place in Burnsville, MN. So, in 1999, Mike decided that he would uproot himself from Hawaii to open a new shop in Minnesota. But what to call it?
After much thought, Mike remembered a story that Jerry had told him long ago. A tale that Jerry insisted was the truth, as fantastic and far-fetched as it was. Apparently, at one point, Jerry had a monkey that he kept in the shop, whom he affectionately named ‘Romeo.’ Romeo was part of Jerry’s life as a sailor, stemming from the tradition of bringing exotic pets from far away places. Romeo amused Jerry to no end, having the unsavory habit of bending over and ‘mooning’ customers as they walked in. Jerry and one of his partners eventually came upon the idea of tattooing an “AL” and “HA” on each side of Romeo’s butt, so that when customers came in, they were greeted by Romeo’s “ALOHA.” Unfortunately, having a monkey in a tattoo shop was not the best of ideas. One day, it is told, Jerry came into the tiny 1033 Smith St. location to find that Romeo had gotten loose and, in the process of throwing needles around, tearing sheets of designs, and causing general havoc, Romeo had drunk a brand new bottle of black ink that Jerry had just bought. Infuriated, Jerry was cleaning the shop and yelling at Romeo for causing such a mess when one of Jerry’s good customers from the US Navy walked in with his brand new tropical white sailor’s suit. Romeo let up a screech, turned around to spread the ‘ALOHA,’ and sprayed black ink diarrhea all over the poor swabby’s pristine white outfit.
This story of Romeo, who was immortalized on one of Jerry’s sheets of tattoo designs (called flash), became the basis of Mike’s new shop name: The Aloha Monkey. It was also Mike’s way of tweaking the conservative noses of those who scoffed at tattooing; something Mike was always fond of doing.
As time went on, Mike realized that he would need help at his new location. He eventually brought in a young tattooist who was recommended to him by friends; this tattooist was named Josh Arment. Josh came to Burnsville to help Mike out with the Aloha Monkey while it got started, learning to expand his skills while under the tutelage and friendship of Mike. They became close friends, and Josh eventually made Burnsville and the Aloha Monkey his permanent home. It was a partnership for the ages.
Eventually, although Mike enjoyed tattooing, he realized more and more that he just wanted to focus on his painting and decided to retire. He knew that Josh would be the right man to hand over the wheel of the Monkey to, so he sold the shop to his young friend and moved on.
Josh Arment took the reigns of the Aloha Monkey, transforming it from a great tattoo shop into one of the greatest tattoo shops, first in Minnesota, then eventually in all of North America. Tirelessly working harder to continually improve his skills, as well as making the Monkey into one of the tightest run ships in the industry, he has surrounded himself with a great crew and a constant flow of amazing tattooists from around the world. His hard work and dedication has allowed “The Aloha Monkey” to grow from a shop in an area that was formerly known as ‘nothing special’ to a shop where tattooists are now clamoring to come visit.
Josh Arment still keeps the Monkey in ship shape, bringing world-class tattooing to the Great State of Minnesota, proudly decorating the fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters of the Gopher State. We look forward to ensuring that the traditions carried by Sailor Jerry and Mike Malone are still strong and continue to move forward. We invite you to join us at keeping Minnesota beautiful, and to get tattooed at The Aloha Monkey!