Interview: Artist Scott Campbell Speaks On His New Exhibit “Things Get Better”



He’s most known for the elaborate tattoos he inks, but contemporary artist Scott Campbell is taking on a new approach. For his upcoming solo exhibition at OHWOW in Los Angeles, Campbell tries out a new aesthetic in his show ‘Things Get Better’. Here, Mr. Campbell tells us how it all stemmed from some time he spent in Mexico.

Life+Times: Your latest exhibition is now taking place at OHWOW Gallery starting What can we expect from this body of work?
Scott Campbell:
I’ve always hoped for an audience without expectations. This show is all watercolor paintings and much more focused than shows I’ve had in the past. If I’m allowed to have a favorite, this is it. That said, I think that an artist’s most recent body of work is always the favorite.

L+T: The title of your show is ‘Things Get Better’. What’s behind the name?
The subject matter of the show is improvised tools made out of materials available in a prison setting. I then created paintings of small constructions made from such scavenged materials: duct tape, wires, lighters, plastic forks, etc. In this way, the title could literally address the “things” that are used in the objects. I also like the phrase as a gesture of optimism in such a modest context.

L+T: The subject matter consists of ink wash paintings on paper that realistically illustrate novel objects and improvised tools. What is it about this subject matter that you find so intriguing?
The paintings are of tattoo machines; they are constructed out of appropriated materials. Though, what’s most interesting to me about this work doesn’t really have much to do with tattooing, or even prison. I like the idea that inspiration can come from limitations. There’s a general notion that inspiration is a sort of expansion of awareness or broadening of creative range. This work is inspired by parameters. The openness of a blank canvas and the infiniteness of the possibilities that canvas may contain can be paralyzing. When I have limitations –a confined range of materials –and a specific task to fulfill, it creates a little world that I can get lost in and walls to push against. These paintings are created within parameters that we can imagine ourselves in and, in that way, are relatable. The watercolors are humble and sweet in their simplicity.

L+T: The foundation for this exhibit stems from time you spent in Mexico City – what was it about this trip that inspired this series?
SC: I spent two months visiting a prison in Mexico City where I worked with the inmates and spent a lot of time tattooing them. I wasn’t allowed to bring tattoo equipment in, so we had to build tattoo guns with whatever materials were available to us at the time. I donated a few VCRs and a beaten old guitar to the prison rec room to help with this cause. The next day, we would pull the motors out of the VCRs and then use little lengths of the guitar strings as needles, sharpening them on the grout between the tiles.

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