A solo exhibition of work by artist Scott Campbell is currently on view at OHWOW Los Angeles, featuring a series of large-scale ink wash paintings on paper, depicting invented objects, particularly makeshift tools, textual subversions, and intriguing figurations found in the world of underground and prison tattoo culture.
Intended to illustrate the ideas of human ingenuity and inventiveness, Things Get Better sprang from the artist’s interest and investigations into the history of tattoo culture in prisons, a fascination that may account for his work’s intensity and meticulous attention to detail, as well as his subject matter, which belies a certain makeshift ingenuity. Throughout the exhibition, Campbell explores the idea of limitation and resistance as necessary elements in the cultivation of creative energy. Observing inmates piecing together a variety of materials, including electric razors, guitar strings, toothbrushes, and spray bottles to invent bootlegged means of creating tattoo art, Campbell turned his own work towards these objects, depicting them at a large scale. Emphasizing the haphazard nature of the devices, Campbell illuminates the intense needs and steps undertaken for prisoners to literally ascribe meaning to their own experience, branding text on their skin by any means available.
The labor involved in Campbell’s depiction of the prisoners’ tools, and the minimalism of the materials he himself used to create these images mirrors the subject matter, and deepens his concept of art as a useful tool, rather than a luxury. As Campbell has said about the limitations and barriers that surround us all, “…once recognized, we can then begin our work of flourishing and creating within them.” With attention to method and process, Campbell accurately reproduces what he documented. Furthermore, the process utilized requires extreme focus, since the ink watercolor he has used is permanent and cannot be erased.
Limiting his own work while depicting a group of people who have limitations forced upon them, Campbell has shown extreme discipline and loyalty to his medium and message, giving an optimistic view to potentially dark subject matter, while showing a peculiar brand of solidarity with his subjects and collaborators . “The openness of everything can be paralyzing…” Campbell states, but “walls help us to know where we are, and what we have.”
Things Get Better, a stark display of meticulous detail presented in a large format will continue through June 22nd.