The first thing you notice about Phillip Limon is his skin. He’s covered in tattoos. They overwhelm his other features and even replace some—the guy has tattoos for hair. Because of his looks and his enthusiasm, you’d naturally assume he’s a tattoo artist, but he’s not. He’s a collector (the industry term), one who can never cash in on resales. He sees his tattoos (excluding the ones he gets to commemorate births and deaths) as a reflection of the artists who create them and not of himself. And in response, plenty of tattooists have noticed his vast knowledge of the art form and cajoled him to take up tattooing. He refuses on the basis of a lack of artistic talent, but also because he has something unique to offer the tattoo community.
“I’ve been collecting tattoos for 10 years, and I am that,” the 31-year-old says, as if anybody could doubt his dedication. “My knuckles say ‘war paint collector.’” By day, Limon manages Precious Slut Tattoo Co., a tattoo parlor with two locations in Las Vegas. He loves his job, but Cornerstone Gallery is his heart. He founded it two years ago when the City of the World Gallery owner suggested he turn an abandoned house in the Arts District into something more. (Located at the intersection of Casino Center Boulevard and Colorado Avenue, it’s a part of the action of First Friday—even when it was dormant, people would sit on the front porch and eat barbecue.) Limon seized the opportunity to provide a platform for low-brow art. “I was like, ‘Man, what if I had a spot that showcased only that, only the tattoo artists’ art and the graffiti artists’ art?’”
Limon answered his own question by transforming the building into a space that, like his skin, is covered in work by local graffiti artists. He gutted the small house and divided it into six showrooms that he rents out to the greater tattoo community. (Between rent and commission on pieces sold, Limon makes enough to cover the bills.) The art comes in a range of media, from paintings and drawings to painted skateboard decks and a sculpture of a car made from a tattoo gun. Artists from the biggest tattoo studios in town have shown there. And the place is always packed on First Fridays. Fundamentally, Limon wants the world to know that “tattoos artists are artists. They paint, they draw, they sculpt. They do really awesome stuff.” He also built a 9-foot-by-33-foot wall in the back, which acts as a fresh canvas for live painting every First Friday when it’s not hosting international graffiti artists. The wall is so popular that he’s planning a 58-foot extension.
In a sense, Limon has lost track of his own success. Because each space often holds group shows, he has no idea how many artists have shown in Cornerstone Gallery in the course of two years. And he likes it that way.
Considering the compliments he’s received, the city seems ready to accept his message. “I hear all the time that your gallery is my favorite gallery,” he says. “I’m proud of that. That’s exciting. I’m not doing it for the praise, but I definitely appreciate it.”
Then what is he doing it for?
Limon pauses to think, and then answers with slow, deliberate speech: “For their recognition—not only from their peers as artists, but from the rest of the community.”