Storied tattoo shop stakes claim in Burnsville

Burnsville tattoo-shop owner Josh Arment was a little overcome when friends, city officials and Chamber of Commerce members came out April 26 to help him cut the ribbon on his new building.

The lineage of two world-famous tattoo artists runs through his shop, the Aloha Monkey. Its insignia proclaims Arment and his seven artists “Keepers of the Flame” and “Protectors of Tradition.”

After nearly two decades occupying rented space in a Nicollet Avenue strip mall, Arment staked his claim by buying and renovating an abandoned gas station next door. On April 26, the community helped him celebrate.

“I got emotional,” Arment admitted. “I cried a little bit.”

He and the shop made a weekend of it, hosting 22 guest tattoo artists from around the country for an Aloha Monkey 20th anniversary party.

“I had to make sure to come back for the anniversary,” said Arment’s close friend and former Aloha Monkey artist Douglas Hardy, who works at Ed Hardy’s Tattoo City in San Francisco. “This is one of my favorite shops in the entire world. I’ve literally tattooed around the world — Europe, Japan, Canada, all around the States — and there’s some amazing tattoo shops, but this place is really special.”

Mike and ‘Sailor Jerry’

Aloha Monkey opened April 1, 1999, at the Colonial Ridge Shopping Center. Owner Michael Malone, a renowned tattoo artist whose 2007 death at age 64 was covered in a New York Times obituary, had come to Minnesota for love — specifically, to marry a cosmetic tattoo artist from Shakopee named Linda.

“He fell in love with a big Scandinavian woman, and she had grandkids, and he didn’t have kids his whole life,” Arment explained. “He found family in it. They met in Hawaii, and he loved her because she was 6 foot tall and smoked cigars.”

Malone, aka “Rollo Banks,” was a protege of “Sailor Jerry” Collins, a tattooing legend who created a fusion of styles blending Japanese and American traditions.

Douglas Hardy’s father, Ed, was also a protege. In his will, Douglas said, Collins stipulated that his tattoo shop in Honolulu, Hawaii, which he’d opened in the 1950s, pass to either Ed Hardy or Mike Malone. When Collins died in 1973, Malone left New York, where he had been tattooing, and moved to Hawaii to buy the shop, called China Sea Tattoo. Malone had a short stint in Austin, Texas, in the 1980s, before returning the shop to Honolulu. It closed in 2000, said Douglas Hardy, who was Malone’s apprentice in Honolulu from 1992 to 1996 and met Arment when Hardy came to Minnesota in 1998.

Arment, from southern Illinois, loved art from an early age but didn’t warm to the computer art and graphic design he was taught in school. He took up tattooing at 19 and lived in Chicago for six years. At a friend’s recommendation, Malone hired Arment for his new Burnsville shop in 1999.

“It was like, if John Lennon asked you to play guitar in his band or something, you just do it,” Arment said. “So I got the invite after years of just being pen pals with him.”

Arment, who bought Aloha Monkey when Malone retired to focus on painting, still marvels at the artistic blood that runs through the place.

“The lineage is something that needs to be talked about,” he said, “because it’s pretty unprecedented to go from

Sailor Jerry to Mike Malone with an Ed Hardy-Doug Hardy influence. It’s like, I’m the blessed one.”

From dump

to destiny

Arment said he’s had his eye on the old gas station north of the strip mall for 18 years. In the last several years it opened seasonally as a paintball store but for the last three had been vacant, he said.

After repeated tries, he got the owner to negotiate a sale.

“The roof was leaking,” Arment said of the 1970s building. “There was a 3-foot hole above the AC unit. It was just a dump.”

He finished the renovation and moved in last November, replacing a neighborhood eyesore with a thriving business in an attractive building.

“During the ribbon-cutting I thanked him for upgrading the neighborhood,” City Council Member Dan Gustafson said.

The inside walls are covered with frame after frame of tattoo designs, from the surreal to the traditionally bawdy.

If some of the imagery is sexual, “It’s because it’s all a distillation of life,” Arment said, ruminating on his craft. “It’s all of life’s romances, all of life’s fall-downs, all of life’s come-ups, bravado, sex, death, love, mortality — it’s all up there, and all these images just represent some small distillation of it.”

There are a number of Jesus images.

“He’s a huge distillation of the whole thing,” Arment said. “I do a lot of Jesus — in my own personal life and on the skin. That’s my homeboy. He’s the most radical person in the world.”

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