Often recognized for tattooing an impressive roster of celebrity clients, the New York-based artist, Scott Campbell, has now branched out with a well-received gamut of fashion and fine art endeavors

Whether in collaboration with Louis Vuitton’s menswear collections or in dynamic sculpture, watercolors and mixed media art, Campbell’s work is attracting international and cross-genre appeal. What started out as a simple teenage rebellion has since catapulted Campbell’s career. And all the while, he remains quite humble about his undoubtedly steady ascent. I got a chance to speak with the Louisiana-born artist on his romance with tattoos, his inspiration, obsession and how he’s living the dream.

So how did you start tattooing? I was an angry little suburban kid looking for mischief and tattoos were an incredibly efficient way of pissing off my father. But then once I started getting tattoos and being in that environment a little bit more, I started to appreciate the kind of romance of tattoos, as a folk art. It’s kind of underground, a little bit criminal. I just really love the lifestyle. I could just draw pictures and make cash wherever I wanted to go. I’d be like, there’s some really cool guy who draws really cool pictures in Yokohama. I’m gonna try to figure out a way to go to Yokohama and sit at his doorstep until he gives me a job at his shop. So that was kind of the romance that was exciting for me to be a part of.

You’ve had a lot of success with your fine art. Are you still tattooing? Whenever I’m in town and have gaps in my schedule, I’ll fill it with appointments because I do really enjoy it. I still get inspired by doing tattoos.

What’s inspiring? A lot of my fine artwork handles themes that are prevalent in tattooing. Even though the artwork I do doesn’t visually correlate to tattoos, there’s a sense of narrative to it all. With tattooing, my job is literally to take a person’s story or emotional situation and figure out a way to summarize and illustrate it in a picture, symbol or phrase. The artwork I do has a similar dynamic. It’s a concise phrase or picture or something that alludes to a larger story.
Tattooing on a regular basis is a way for me to still meet people and hear their stories and be a part of all these biographies. That keeps me inspired, keeps me excited. Emotions over the decades and centuries haven’t really changed. People fall in love the same as they did 200 years ago. It’s just how they communicate that changes. So it’s interesting to see people come up with new ways to profess their love for their girlfriend on their arm or to mourn the death of a loved one, or anything, and then work with them on how to illustrate that.

Do you think tattoos can be an obsession? I do hear that said a lot. Getting your first tattoo is a big first step because it’s an unknown. I think once you cross that line, it’s much easier to cross that line again. When you get your first tattoo, it demystifies it a bit. You see it as a way of taking control of your own identity or who you are, and once you get one, that just opens doors and possibilities and you start thinking of it in different ways, things you want to get tattooed. I don’t think it’s addictive. Just getting your first tattoo is educational, and once you learn that it’s not that big of a deal, it’s easier to get your second or third or however many. And yeah, you could say that you’re making a decision that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life, and that’s true in a literal sense. But we make decisions that we carry for the rest of lives all the time. I was in London a little while ago, and this sweet little old British woman was like, “Oh my God! Look at you! You sweet thing, what are you going to do if you wake up one day and you don’t want all those?” All these tattoos on me, that’s my past. It’s where I’ve been. My past is my past. That’s the same as it is with everyone. There’s just more literal evidence of it written all over me.

So you’re heading now to Paris for the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC). What are you showing? It’s this kind of group show with the theme of rebels in art, so you know, cue the tattooed scumbag. Karl Lagerfeld designed this weird booth that the work is being shown in, and it should be fun.

Traveling, creative freedom. Yeah, you’re living the dream! Yeah, that’s it for sure. This year has been pretty crazy, as far as doing shows internationally. Being able to have a voice in the fashion and art world that’s respected and paid attention to is pretty special. And I definitely don’t take it lightly. I have a life now where I can keep making things that I want to make and kind of follow my inspiration, and I hope that the fashion and art world comes with me on that. And if I go off on some weirdo tangent and they don’t follow me, then so be it. I’ll hang out on my weirdo tangent. I’m just grateful I get to keep making what I make and that people are so supportive of it.

TEXT BY Jen Choi