Scott Campbell began his practice casually tattooing friends, now his work decorates the skin of A-list celebrities such as Orlando Bloom, Robert Downey Jr., Penelope Cruz and even fashion designer Marc Jacobs. After coming to the realization that biochemistry was not meant to be his pursuit in life, Campbell dropped out of the University of Texas and made a break for San Francisco, where his tattooing career commenced. He learned the art form in a shabby, little shop called Picture Machine, and eventually opened his own place in Brooklyn called Saved Tattoo.
Campbell has done all kinds of work outside his shop. In 2013 he visited a Mexican prison and tattooed inmates. He’d schmoozed his way in by giving the receptionist flowers and the warden a bottle of scotch. “I think the guys I worked with were so thrilled to have someone take interest in them,” he said. “Prison is a place where everyone is wearing an orange suit, and everyone is given a number, and it really dehumanizes a population. Tattoos become this last-ditch effort to distinguish yourself from the people around you, and that’s where tattoos have power, where they have real meaning.”
In the summer of 2016, he collaborated with Hennessy to design a Very Special Limited Edition label. He visited the birthplace of the brand, Cognac, France, to learn its history and find inspiration. The label is described as a fusion of two cultures: tattoo artistry and cognac making. On the front, he based his design on a pair of wings, symbolizing freedom. On the back, he scrawled the words “Love without Hesitation” because he believes that “once you can love without hesitation, you become invincible.”
Thus far, his most jaw-dropping project is Whole Glory, which recently occurred in London the weekend of October 7th 2016. The concept is simple: a wall separates Campbell and lottery-selected individuals. The individual places his or her arm inside a hole in the wall, and without any communication between the two, Campbell gives them a tattoo. He uses some references, but for the most part it’s completely spontaneous. It’s free too, almost like an exchange of sorts. In return for her trust in his skills, he gives her his best work without charge. Many might scoff at this risk and say that unplanned tattoos are a bad idea, but Campbell encourages the recklessness and freedom of it.
In fact, the project was inspired by his desire to have total freedom when tattooing. He said, “I feel like it’s impossible to do tattoos without being aware of the receiver’s opinion of what you’re doing. And so I’ve always loved the idea of having real freedom in tattooing, really being able to do whatever I want, without being led or influenced by the person’s input. It’s kind of an experiment to see what happens when you go down that road. Is it more freeing?”
There’s a certain intimacy that comes along with tattooing, and while it could be assumed the wall takes away this intimacy, Campbell found the opposite to be true. He stated, “Even though the premise was that I would just be a non-emotional vending machine for tattoos there was a real palm reading dynamic of me just touching this person’s arm and I just couldn’t help but imagine who it was connected to.” He imagined a face, stories and a personality to go along with the face, and administered tattoos based on that. His strategy has proved effective as no one has ever walked away from him unhappy.