Robert Pho is a legendary tattoo artist who has been putting out absolutely amazing work for about three decades now.
Robert specializes in realism work and does an incredible job at creating amazingly saturated and detailed tattoos that are built to last a damn long time.
He was tattooing out of Las Vegas for quite some time but has now made his way out to Honolulu, Hawaii where he built a new shop to work out of.
I was lucky enough to see this bodysuit he completed (seen in the video below) in person when I made it out to the Empire State convention in NYC as well as the Golden State Expo in Pasadena, California, and I can absolutely say that it is even more breathtaking in person somehow and the client (Monty) draws massive crowds anytime he has his shirt off.
I got the chance to ask him some questions in the interview below and I hope you guys enjoy the read.
So you’re a legend in the game and known as one of the greats in realism tattooing… Exactly how many years have you been tattooing?
This year is my 29th year in tattooing. I started tattooing in 1989.
What did things look like back then when you first started compared to how things are nowadays?
It was a lot harder back then I feel like. Tattooing has evolved so much from what it used to be. From equiptment to ink, all the way to the artistry. Information now is far more easier to get than before with the internet and so forth. Artists now are a lot more friendlier and easier to talk to than before. Even I have changed in so many ways. And it’s definitely more acceptable to have tattoos now in society than before. But I remember you had to wait your turn in line to be that next guy. You had to wait for everything. To be in magazines, to work at conventions, to get any kind of notoriety. It was part of paying your dues. Now with social media, tv, etc, you don’t need to wait in line anymore. Its a free for all. It’s so much easier for artists now to promote themselves.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had on a piece or project? (If you could include any photos or video if it’s convenient that’d be great)
The most fun I’ve had on a project was definitely working on one of my client,
Monte’s bodysuit. He started out wanting a family leg sleeve, but by our second session, he approached me about wanting to do his whole bodysuit. And wanted to complete it as soon as possible. He gave me just a general idea of what he wanted and gave me free reign so here we are. It took me almost 3 years to complete working on him one session of 8 hours a week. There’s nothing more satisfying for an artist when a client gives you that much free reign and freedom to do work.
Do you have any specific overall goal as a tattooist, or any bucket list items as an artist before you decide to stop tattooing eventually?
Yes. There are so many ideas I would like to put into skin before I go. Lol. And to have about 100 more Montes out there before I stop tattooing. So I know I have at least another 20 years left in me before I stop tattooing. By that time I’m sure I’ll have most of my goals checked off before it’s time for me to leave.
You have quite the collection yourself… Who all do you have work from (if photos are convenient that’d be great), and who are you really hoping to collect pieces from someday?
I have work from jack Rudy, Tom renshaw, Robert Hernandez, Kore Flatmo, Bob Tyrrell, Nikko Hurtado, Carlos Torres, joe Capobianco, Mike Devries, Roman Abrego, Tommy Montoya, Fernie Andrade, Brian Gonzalez, Chente, Bobby Serna, Chuey Quintanar, Fred Flores, Josh Duffy, Boris, Abey Alvarez, & my lil brother Andy Pho. I hope to one day collect from Filip Leu, Tin tin, tim Hendricks, Shige, Dawei zhang, Anil Gupta, paul booth, Jose Lopez, Pint, Corey miller, to name a few. These are some of the older guys I’ve admired during my career before Instagram. Lol. And there’s also a few IG guys I wouldn’t mind getting pieces from also.
Who were some of your influences as you began tattooing? Any new school artists you’ve been highly impressed by lately?
Pretty much the guys I’ve mentioned earlier were some of my influences when I began tattooing. If I had to pick one guy that was my biggest influence coming up, I would say Tom Renshaw. He was the guy I wanted to be like as far as work.
Three favorite things about being a tattooist? Any pet peeves lately or things that you get a good laugh about in the industry?
1. Being able to constantly learn and evolve as an artist
2. The satisfaction of making clients happy with my work.
3. Being able to provide for my family
Funniest experience you’ve had with any client or funniest thing you’ve witnessed at a convention? (or one of each)
I think the funniest thing I’ve experienced w clients in tattooing to this day is when I was in prison there was a tradition that you had to “set in” their tattoos or another words, slap the clients’ tattoo after you were done tattooing. It was the funniest and most exciting part of the whole experience. I was so looking forward to slapping their tattoos to watch their expression. It was the funniest, saddest and the most ridiculous experience at the same time. It still cracks me up to think we went through that.
Three things you wish each of your clients knew without you having to explain?
1. Your rates and the reason why you charge what you charge.
2. How important taking care of your tattoo is
3. Your work would look a lot better if you trust your artist and give him free reign
For the (hopefully) humble and hungry tattooers out there aspiring to achieve what you have… do you have any key pieces of advice as far as what it takes to really go from being good to being great?
I think I would have to say being patient and staying hungry to get better. Don’t settle with your work. Always try new things. Don’t take shortcuts. If it’s not your time, one day it will be. But only time can make you “great” so the more time you put in, the more great you will become as long as you’re still hungry.
Thanks so much for your time Robert! If you don’t already follow Robert, be sure to check out his incredible work at @robert_pho