For tattoo and visual artist SCOTT CAMPBELL, nothing is greater than the freedom to express himself permanently on a canvas, paper, or someone else’s skin.
Tattooing has changed a lot over the years. It’s rarely being categorized as something that’s out from the norm and the divide between those who have inks and those who don’t are slowly waning. It has to; it should be because like how tattoo artist Scott Campbell would put it, having a tattoo is just one way of curating your own identity. “At the moment, people having tattoos are putting a lot of energy and thought more into what they want to have tattooed and its value for them—if it’s something positive or something negative.”
“I love helping people define whatever it is that they’re going through in that moment.”
At an early age, Scott longed for a city life. Looking for that motivation and inspiration that was lacking from New Orleans, where he was born and raised, he wanted nothing but to move to the biggest and shiniest cities that he could explore and set foot on. “It wasn’t a specific place or specific thing; I just wanted the freedom to experience things as much as possible. I was very hungry for stimulation and culture,” says the 40-year-old artist. He relocated to San Francisco in his 20s and he described himself as a “dirty, little punk-rock kid.” He always had a knack for drawing and would often draw on people’s denim and leather jackets. He already had several tattoos done on him during that time, and really liked the idea of skin art but never got the confidence to do it to others, not until a friend knocked on his door one day and gave him a gift. “He bought me a tattoo machine and he said that the way to pay him back is to tattoo him with it. The gesture was really beautiful. It was one of those things where he believed in me more than I believed in myself. It pushed me to do my first tattoos. I started tattooing more and more of my friends, a lot of people started coming to my house to get tattooed so I just started charging money and called it my job,” says Scott. His A-list clients comprise of Marc Jacobs, Penelope Cruz, Orlando Bloom, Josh Hartnett, Helena Christensen, and Robert Downey, Jr. The brilliant Heath Ledger was his first celebrity client and he has only good things to say about the late actor. “Heath was one of the most present and sincere people I have ever shaken hands with. He was one of the good ones.”
“The only real value I get from owning a tattoo shop is to be able to have a family of tattooers that I love spending time around. I really just want to use my shop as a platform for tattoo artists that I believe in, to try and help them grow.”
Scott’s tattoo style is contemporary—boasting of fine and intricate lines, and meticulous shading. He has a thing for skulls, roses, and classic tattoo symbols. He’s also a visual artist using a wide range of medium like watercolor, oil, graphite, and paper carving to showcase his visions. He credits tattooing for his proficiency in drawing and painting. “I was definitely one of those kids who had a hard time keeping still and finishing things. Even though I had a knack for drawing, I can’t complete anything, until I started tattooing because with tattooing, you’re forced to finish, you can’t just stop halfway in the middle,” he explains. He had done successful collaborations with brands like Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, and Hennessy, in which according to him, he treats as though he’s tattooing a person—he sits down to meet with them, understand their story, and executing what they want using his vocabulary and style. He has done numerous art exhibits but the one that he’s touring is the Whole Glory, wherein people would get a random tattoo from Scott by sticking their arm in a hole of a makeshift wall in a gallery but won’t get to see it until it’s done. “It started because I wanted to have an exhibition and I was talking about tattooing in public and how it’s so stressful and that the only way that I’d be able to enjoy it would be through this weird, anonymous dynamic, so we tried it,” he said. And he continues, “I didn’t think that it was a trip that anyone would go and be willing to participate but I was really surprised by how overwhelming the response was. I did it in New York first for four days, in the first day, people were curious. They didn’t know if it was real and they didn’t know what to expect, at least 50 to 60 people came through. And then the second day, once the word got out, the room was packed with 400 people all day long.”
“I was definitely one of those kids who had a hard time keeping still and finishing things. Even though I had a knack for drawing, I can’t complete anything, until I started tattooing because with tattooing, you’re forced to finish, you can’t just stop halfway in the middle.”
Saved Tattoo is the name of the tattoo shop that he owns, which currently has two branches, one in New York and one in Los Angeles. “Having a tattoo parlor is a terrible business, I’d never tell someone to open a tattoo shop if they want to make money out of it. The only real value I get from owning a tattoo shop is to be able to have a family of tattooers that I love spending time around,” explains Scott. His shop in L.A. he runs like a co-op wherein he only charges rent and doesn’t take a cut from the artists’ profit. “I really just want to use my shop as a platform for tattoo artists that I believe in, to try and help them grow. There are people who own tattoo shops that are profitable but I think the kind of boss that I have to be in order to make money is not the person that I want to be, so I do a lot of my artwork and I do my own tattoos to make a living but for the shop, it’s just to help promote people to do beautiful work. I believe that if you put good out there, it comes back to you.” Aside from the tattoo business, Scott also ventured into the luxury cannabis game with his business partner Clement Kwan and called their brand Beboe, in gratitude to Scott’s late grandmother. “My mother struggled with cancer for eight years when I was young, and my grandmother would make her brownies with marijuana whenever she would really have a hard time with her cancer treatments. My grandmother’s name was Be Boe so I named this project after her. Our country is so backwards and divided right now but in California, the medical marijuana community has really become this movement of compassion. If someone’s hurting and you can make them hurt less then you absolutely should,” says Scott.
Currently, Scott just brought Whole Glory in Shanghai and is finishing some artworks for a show in L.A. due on spring, other than that, he juggles operations for his tattoo shop, being a father and a husband. Tattooing is his passion and his source of expressing nonconformity, empathy, and creativeness. “When I tattoo, people come to me with their beliefs, fears, and loves. It’s my job to figure out a symbol or phrase that communicates whatever they’re feeling, it really shown me how powerful symbols can be to people. I love helping people define whatever it is that they’re going through in that moment.”
By Denise Mallabo