Niagara , by Brian Montuori. Courtesy of V1 Gallery.

Niagara, by Brian Montuori. Courtesy of V1 Gallery.

Brian Montuori makes paintings—epic, breathtakingly chaotic paintings—about the crazy and wrong stuff that people do. A recent example: Niagara, a colossal canvas measuring a little over 9 x 14 ft. that portrays a riot of farmyard beasts tumbling down the famous falls. The painting, which was exhibited at a London gallery last fall, is based on a purported 19th-century publicity stunt by some local hoteliers who wanted to drum up business. They figured that shoving a ship full of animals over the Niagara would be a great way to get their name out there.

“I don't like Hallmark-card art,” explains Montuori, a onetime Dillinger Escape Plan keyboardist who counts hardcore music among his artistic influences. “I feel like it’s insulting to get somebody's attention and then have nothing to say.” In April, he’s having his first New York solo show—at LaViolaBank Gallery—and he’s plotting paintings based on Chernobyl and the three-eyed fish from The Simpsons. “I’m gonna crank the volume up to 11 with this one,” he says.

The 32-year-old Brooklynite can trace his interest in art back to a childhood visit to the dentist’s office, where he saw a People magazine article on Damien Hirst, the British artist famous for encasing a shark in a formaldehyde-filed glass box. “A dead shark in a tank can very well be the coolest thing ever to a 12-year-old boy,” says Montuori. “It definitely got me thinking.”

On the canvas that is his flesh, Montuori estimates he has somewhere between 150 and 200 tattoos, including a portrait of Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh on his leg, the word AMBULANCE as a stomach rocker, and a tiger and a wolf head on his hands, inked by Elio Espana of Fly Rite Studios in Brooklyn and based on drawings from 1901. “It was literally 45 minutes from shave to bandage on each one,” he says of Espana’s handiwork, “and I couldn’t be happier having to look at them every day. He just nailed it exactly as I saw it.”

For the longest time, tattoos were the furthest thing from Montuori’s mind. He just wasn’t that into them. But he grew up a “sick” kid—asthmatic, overweight—and he came to see tattoos as a way to perceive his body in a new light. To gain control, as it were. It’s a futile struggle unintentionally embodied by his first tattoo, at age 20: a square on the back of his neck. “It looks like shit now,” says Montuori. “People think the tag on my shirt is sticking out.”

(Published in the March 2010 issue of Inked.)