Have you ever come across someone with tattoos and wondered about the story behind the ink? When I first met Phil, I immediately noticed his left arm filled with depictions of famous Buffalo landmarks. I had to wonder: What was his story?
Historically speaking, tattoos don’t have the best track record. What was once considered to be taboo for the mainstream has become a unique form of self-expression, mainly among millennials. Even just a decade ago, tattoos were described as having a negative stigma.
Now that the stigma has changed, tattoos have become more commonplace and our society (especially the Buffalo community) has opened up and embraced tattoos as works of meaningful art. If you live in Buffalo, you might have seen one of these tattooed persons or *Gasp* you might be one of them.
I asked Phil if he would sit down with me and talk about his tattoos and the stories behind them. As someone who has never gone under the needle, I think Phil has some pretty unique and well-done tats, and I wanted to find out the inspiration for each one.
Phil is a 27-year-old Buffalo transplant who (like many Buffalonians) is passionate about the blossoming city of Buffalo. He enjoys the occasional urban exploration, walking around metropolitan areas, and appreciates the northern city culture. He has moved away only once, to St. Louis; but while he was gone, his torch for the Queen City never faded and he always knew he would move back to Buffalo and never leave.
Phil started his tattoo journey at the ripe age of 18, which ironically and literally was a Buffalo tattoo: the outline of a Buffalo Bison on the inside of his upper right arm. It was a spur of the moment action that he acquired at American Skin Art; but this tattoo was the gateway and started him down the path of creating his left sleeve.
After his brief stint in St. Louis, Phil decided he wanted more tattoos. He continued to fill up his right arm with various, semi-meaningful tattoos – a PBS tattoo here, a Flux Capacitor there – but had yet to realize his goal of creating his dedicated Buffalo sleeve. Then one fateful day Phil and his fiancée walked into Rise Above Classic Tattooing where he met the man who would ink his arm; shop owner and tattoo artist, Erich Foster.
If you were to take a look at Phil’s left arm, and you didn’t recognize the landmarks or buildings by the tattoo, then we might have to question how long have you lived here and what are you looking at when you are venturing around the town. His arm is filled with images of Buffalo landmarks like the Electric Tower, City Hall, and Erie County Building.
When Phil met with Foster, he wasn’t sure how to approach the sleeve and had no care in which direction it went other than “no Bills logo, snow, and no wings”. He asked Erich to “make the sleeve something that if you are from Buffalo you’d recognize it, but if you weren’t from Buffalo you’d have no idea what it is.” Foster’s enthusiasm for the vision is what gave life to Phil’s tattoos.
Even in the beginning session, there was no real direction other than Phil knew he wanted to have the image of Buffalo City Hall on his arm. Other than that, Phil never had an idea what tattoo would be next or where it would be located until the day of the appointment.
The major focus of the sleeve was to be architecture and buildings; starting with the Richardson-Olmsted Complex and ending with the Central Terminal. The two tattoos that aren’t Buffalo buildings include the Shea’s Theatre sign and the Buffalo Main Lighthouse(where Phil would later propose to his fiancée).
The Central Terminal is Phil’s favorite tattoo on his left arm even though it’s the smallest. “I think it looks the coolest. The coolest building in Buffalo. Also the most interesting and fascinating building. The building’s use fizzled out only after like 20 years, but it has this enormous potential to be a widely used facility. A sitting relic, which could be used again…”
“All of the buildings and architecture are beautiful; that’s really what it comes down to. Whenever I go downtown (which I like to go a lot), I just walk around. Not with any purpose; not for a sports game, not for Canalside, not for a concert. But just to go down there and walk around. I love to just go and stare at the buildings.”
Phil feels strongly about theme behind his tattoos: “[They] are huge pieces of art. They speak of Buffalo’s history, the resiliency of the city, the past that once was, and the fact that these buildings still exist and are a part of the future.”
Eight months, ten sessions, and nine tattoos later, the masterpiece has been completed. As the cherry on top, wisps of wind and autumn leaves surround the buildings, giving it that filler to complete the black and grey theme.
Not including the left sleeve, Phil has ten Buffalo-themed tattoos on his body. Down the road, Phil wants more tattoos that reflect his undying passion for Buffalo; but he’s not sure what he’d like to get or where he’d put them.
“I don’t want to overdo the Buffalo theme and just have everything,” said Phil. But he does know he will have more.
“Every time I travel somewhere, I get a tattoo there.” He’s planning on going to Hawaii in the fall, so who knows what he might get while he’s there.
Phil doesn’t regret any of his tattoos and likes to show them off. “Why have tattoos if they can’t be shown?”
As a sports fan, I asked Phil if he appreciated that the new Buffalo Bills head coach, Rex Ryan, had his Jets player tattoo colored over to be a Bills player.
“I think it’s cool. It’s a small tattoo so it was easy to be redone but I dig it.”
I am not sure how many Buffalonians might have tattoos similar to Phil’s but I have to say, his seem to embody the city as an artistic homage to the Buffalo City Life.
What Buffalo tattoos do you have? Share them with us and we will post our favorites along with Phil’s!