Scott Campbell, whose Saved Tattoo parlor in Brooklyn is a destination for ink aficionados such as designer Marc Jacobs, has in recent years branched out into the contemporary art world, presenting bodies of work that dynamically comprise the “alternative” aesthetic and draftsman’s expertise of his trade. Using an array of unique materials, such as US currency and ostrich eggshells, employing a highly technical creative process born from the precision of tattooing, Campbell’s work rests comfortably in the space between high and low, art and fashion, gallery and street.
Installation view of “They Say Miracles Are Past”, photo credit: Ollie Adegboye
His most recent body of work, which was on view during Frieze London in They Say Miracles Are Past, and organized by OHWOW Los Angeles, reflects an irreverent and poetic vision of the lunar phases. In this latest series, Campbell continues to exercise his interest in the blurring of two- and three-dimensional images and shapes. Here, he has created sculpted lunar surfaces, and then buried them in resin, producing persuasive moonscapes rippled with shadowy depressions and dotted with slight hills. On top of this, Campbell has inscribed his signature humor, a schizophrenic narrative of doodles, graffiti and cartoons that seems to be the product of several authors. On the occasion of this latest series, Campbell answers some questions about his creative process and aesthetic vision:
AO: Could you discuss a bit the origin of this body of work – how did it develop, and how long has it taken to complete, from initial idea to final product?
Campbell: “It’s hard to say when ideas are first conceived… I’m always working and trying out different mediums, feeling out the parameters of each. A lot of what I make is illustrative, but often a sort of carving or relief. These works developed through experimenting with new ways to convey an image. The show is a series of 15 portraits of the moon which together depict its cycle of waxing and waning. Each is carved from a block of dense foam, covered in layers of drawings and writings, and then encased in a block of murky resin. The lights and darks that you see are created by the varying depths of the submerged landscape. The topography of the moon is a texture that we’re all visually familiar with, and it holds a very distinctive sense of magic. The medium and the imagery resolve the aesthetic and the intellectual engagement, and the writings and drawings which texture each give them individual personalities and romance. ”
AO: Though the irreverence of the content and the well-executed illustrations tie this series to your past works, it is very different from, for example, the currency works. What are the differences and similarities and what are the reasons for these changes?
Campbell: “Working with the currency pieces, there was always a sense of excavation. I started to think of them as landscapes when drawing them out layer by layer. Even with tattooing, there is a very strong feeling that you’re carving into an existing topography. It’s funny, I didn’t realize this show is much of a departure from my previous works, because it feels like a natural exploration to make. I guess in photos it does look aesthetically different, but emotionally it feels similar. As with a lot of the dollar bill pieces, it’s true to the notion of taking a revered, authoritative symbol, and challenging it with playful gestures and immature profundity. As with other works, these pieces command a very strong presence in a space, and at the same time, have an intimacy to them that when approached is nice to get lost in.”
AO: The execution of your past works has required very precise technical problem solving. What sort of technical issues did you confront with this series? Do you view such problems as a hindrance to your creative process or an enrichment?
Campell: “I really enjoy parameters. Sometimes too much freedom is paralyzing. For example, when painting, I am much more comfortable with watercolors, because you must commit to each stroke. There is no going back. I have never been able to oil paint, because you have the freedom to push things around all day long, or even all week or month long. I feel like I would just keep painting over the same painting forever, and never know when to stop. With all my work, be it paper, dollar bills, eggshells, fire, copper plates, resin… I like feeling out where it can go, and where it can’t and get inspired by its limitations.”
AO: How do you see your work evolving in the future?
Campebll: “Oh man, who knows… I’ve really enjoyed this body of work, and I didn’t get to have them in the studio very long after completing them. A lot of times I get to sit with works and enjoy them awhile before they go off into the world, but these were crated and shipped out pretty quickly. I think I’m experiencing a bit of empty nest syndrome. As if I just went through six months of labor giving birth to them, and then one week later I had to kick them all out of the house.”
Scott Campbell: They Say Miracles are Past was on view from October 4 through Saturday, October 13 at 25 Hanbury Street, E1 6QR, London.
– A. Berman