Tattooing these days is so diverse it can be very difficult for artists to come up with tattoo designs that are innovative or refreshing. Every now and then a tattooist seems to appear on the scene that has that ‘extra special something’, you know what I mean; the guys that puts out work that makes you go ‘Wow!’ Well, for me, Phil Garcia is one of those tattooists who have successfully hit on a winning formula, judging by his bulging trophy cabinet.
Phil first got a glimpse into the world of tattoos when he was constantly reminded of ink by looking at his dad’s panther tattooed on his forearm. To keep Phil amused, his ‘Pop’ would flex his muscles and make the panther move, and as Phil says, “That was pretty fucking cool as a three year-old!”
After leaving his birth country of Spain, Phil and his folks settled in the States where he knuckled down to the American way and eventually joined the Navy.
Four years in and he finally succumbed to the constant cajoling from his mate Warren to pick up a tattoo machine and give tattooing a go. “I gave in and that was the best decision I have ever made,” Phil confesses. So, back on dry land and with the Southern California punk scene well and truly happening, as well as Phil’s growing love of all things art-related, he got more involved with tattooing.
It wasn’t long before Phil decided to go under the needle himself and got tattooed at the tender age of eighteen. “I got my first tattoo at the age of 18 from the local village idiot in Port Hueneme, California. It certainly wasn’t the best tattoo in the world but it had me hooked in no time.” Slowly Phil’s skills grew and he started out working in a few shops in his home state of California, slowly picking up skills and tips from his fellow co-workers and it wasn’t long before his work started to get noticed, and he built up a healthy reputation and a steady clientele for himself.
On the subject of apprenticeships, Phil is quite strong in his views; “I think apprenticeships can be a good and a bad thing. Yes for the safety aspects and no because you can learn poor technique from the wrong person, so you have to be really careful with who you choose to mentor you.” So with this ethos, Phil got the work and was lucky enough to end up working alongside the legends that are Mike DeVries and Cecil Porter. Obviously, working with both these giants in the tattoo world, certain tips and techniques are bound to rub off and be passed over, so Phil progressed to the point where he has been winning a healthy armful of tattoo trophies. “I have attended over 15 southern California conventions, I’ve been to Denver once, Vegas twice, in ‘05 and October ‘09, and Arizona Skin Art Expo where I won Best of Day on the Saturday and Sunday.”
He’s not one to sit back and bask in the glory, oh no, he is constantly looking to improve; “I pick up tips everywhere I go, especially at conventions. It’s the best place to learn because many of the top artists are at work right before your eyes; you’d be really silly not to pay attention to these guys. At the bigger city conventions, people tend to accept tattoos more than the little towns. I guess they need to open their eyes a little more. Generations have changed, and there are a lot of amazing artists out there.”
Phil’s style is quite diverse and covers a multitude of tattooing skills. He says, “I try to approach everything the way I see it in my head, highly detailed, and with a great flow as well as realism in nature and psychedelic subjects at times. It’s different every time, but that’s one of the things I love about my career.” I asked what sort of process Phil goes through when he gets a client into his studio; “I have the client brainstorm through ideas with a certain theme in mind, then I just collect the best ones that best relate to one another. I gather whatever material and references I need and just go to town. Most of my clients have seen my work and have an idea of what they want at first, but later, most are happy to follow my recommendations, which is nice to have the trust there. I think my ultimate tattoo would be to do something that involves vivid and wild images; from animals to flowers, pin-ups to portraits, or a little bit of evil and carnage. Either way I will make it fun for both the client and myself! I certainly won’t do anything that is racist or gang related. So don’t ask. Unfortunately I can’t get away from the tribal and damn butter-fairies, or whatever they call them. Either way it is food on the table and I can’t complain too much really...”
When asked what were the best parts of being an artist pretty high up in the tattooing tree, Phil just smiles and says, “I get to paint the world, it’s freaking great! And I get to sleep in every day!” Having just opened his own Inkphiller studios in Port Hueneme, California, I would imagine that Phil has a little less time on his hands now. Having his own studio comes at a price - Phil getting tattooed himself.
He has work by Luis Ruiz from the Pain Parlour but would dearly love to get inked by on of his ex co-workers, Cecil Porter, as well as having Robert Hernandez high on his wish list. He says, “I have space left so I can sit back and wait...”
Citing guys like Tom Renshaw, Boris Vallejo, Guy Aitchison, Ron Earhart, Mike DeVries, Carson Hill, and others, Phil has a diverse mix of heroes and this shows in his tattoos as he pulls bit and pieces from all his luminaries.
Looking at Phil’s work, you couldn’t tell that he only has a school art background but feels that to get on in tattooing, and to help each individual artist, formal art training is a good thing. “I think it’s great to have as much art training as possible,” he muses, “it builds the foundation and from there you can explore and push the boundaries of art.”
Phil has very much a ‘painterly’ style to his work, with what look like large swathes of colour, expertly blended, and his choice of colour palette also shows that this man knows a bit about colour balance. Many of his tattoos bounce off the skin with the expert use of a little drop shadow and placement that many find lacking in their tattoos.
What with the new studio and working conventions up and down the West Coast of America, Phil has little time for anything else outside tattooing apart from being with his wife and young son, Sonny Cash. “I’d really like to do some more painting. I have quite a few acrylics on canvas and have just started working with oils, one day I’d love to be an art teacher to be able to pass on some of my knowledge; who knows? At the moment I’m really happy being an artist, a father, and a husband.”
So there you have it, Phil Garcia is a man definitely on the right path having spent time at sea and sadly, at war in ‘03, which “Fucked my head up a little, but I believe I’m still sane! My son, Sonny Cash, makes me try harder than I ever tried before and each day I still feel I am damned lucky to have an awesome family.”
And try hard he does. Phil Garcia has just brought home a new piece of silverware to add to his collection, winning Best of Day at Mario Barth's Biggest Tattoo Show On Earth in Las Vegas. Enough said, really...
832 N. Ventura rd, Port, Hueneme CA, 93041, USA, (805)816-3886