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The Truth Behind Ben Affleck's Giant Back Tattoo: 'It Took Hours and Hours to Finish'

People logo People 20/03/2018 Mike Miller

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The true story behind Ben Affleck’s mysterious back tattoo is coming to light.

Nearly two years after claiming the enormous ink was fake and something he only got “for a movie,” the Justice League star, 45, was recently spotted showing off the art while shirtless in Hawaii.

The piece, a colorful image of a phoenix rising from the ashes, covers Affleck’s back entire back from his waist to his shoulders.

a man that is standing in the snow: Ben Affleck © BACKGRID Ben Affleck

A source previously told PEOPLE that he had the tattoo done after his split from Jennifer Garner in 2015 while he was still living in a guest house on the family’s Los Angeles compound.

“They had a huge tattoo machine at the house for days,” the source said. “It took hours and hours to finish.”

Although the public got its first glimpse of Affleck’s tattoo in the summer of 2015, it wasn’t seen in full until December of that year while the actor was filming Live by Night.

a man standing on a beach: Ben Affleck © BACKGRID Ben Affleck

While at the time PEOPLE reported the inking was the real deal, in March 2016 Affleck claimed it was just temporary.

“[It’s] fake for a movie,” Affleck told Extra’s Mario Lopez. “I actually do have a number of tattoos but I try to have them in places where you don’t have to do a lot of cover up they get sort of addictive, tattoos, after awhile.”

Jennifer Anne Affleck (Garner), Ben Affleck are posing for a picture © David Fisher/Rex USA

Affleck’s denial didn’t stop his exes from speaking out. In a 2016 interview with Vanity Fair, Garner hinted she wasn’t the biggest fan of her ex’s back tattoo.

“You know what we would say in my hometown about that? ‘Bless his heart,’” she told the publication.

“A phoenix rising from the ashes. Am I the ashes in this scenario? I take umbrage,” she added. “I refuse to be the ashes.”

Even more bluntly, Jennifer Lopez — who was previously engaged to the actor — said the tattoo was “awful.”

“It’s awful! What are you doing?” Lopez told Andy Cohen during the “Plead the Fifth” segment on Watch What Happens Live.

J-Lo, Ben Affleck posing for the camera: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. © Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck.

“His tattoos always have too many colors, they shouldn’t be so colorful. They should be cooler,” she added.

The phoenix tattoo reared its head again recently when the actor was photographed during a training session alongside Charlie Hunnam, Oscar Isaac and Garrett Hedlund as they prepared for their upcoming film Triple Frontier.

In addition to the back ink, Affleck also has a dolphin on his right hip covering up the name of his high school sweetheart, and has been seen with barbed wire across his right bicep, a large design featuring a fish and a skull and crossbones on his right arm and some initials inscribed on his shoulder blade.

Related slideshow: What to Think About Celeb Ink: Does It Doom a Relationship?

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