The art of Scott Campbell Richard S. Chang/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.

Last October, Scott Campbell, the Brooklyn-based tattoo artist-turned-fine artist, arrived in Mexico for the opening of his solo show to find a vodka company’s logo plastered all over the gallery; he had agreed to only a small logo.

“Essentially, I had some issues,” he told Interview, “and when I confronted [the show’s organizer] with these issues in what I felt was a productive way, he came back with a personal attack.”

Campbell said he tried to rectify the situation, but when he realized they were at an impasse, he decided, “No one makes any money.” He lit a gasoline-fueled fire outside of the gallery and proceeded to throw all of his work -- which sold out on opening night -- into it.

It was a defining moment in his nascent career. But it came and went faster than the gallery in Mexico could extinguish the flames (and then sell the pieces for top dollar as “artist-intervened” works).

null Richard S. Chang/Red Bull Media House North America, Inc.

Mexican Prisons

How could this very bloggable moment disappear so quickly? Possibly because Campbell is tremendously productive, but more likely it’s because in a very short time, he has established several career touchstones of equal bravado and greater importance.

He has spent time in a Mexican prison to document the tattoo culture there. He improvised tattoo machines out of electric razors and toothbrushes, among other things and tattooed the prisoners.

Campbell is also an explorer of materials: making intense pencil drawings inside broken ostrich eggshells; cutting and burning sheets of dollar bills bought directly from the United States Mint.

One piece at his solo show at OHWOW Gallery in Los Angeles in April required $11,000 worth of currency sheets. The sculpture was a 3-dimentional skull inside a two-foot cube.

These aren’t pieces that just look good in the gallery; they also look good in print. To Campbell’s credit, they’re not gimmicks.

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Blankness is not a Void

Right now, he is part of a three-person exhibition at Marc Jancou Contemporary in New York City. Steve Parrino and Raymond Pettibon are the other two artists in the show, “Blankness Is not a Void,” but their work -- small sketches, paintings and mixed-media pieces, serve as bookends, giving context to Campbell’s work.

Not that it needs context. Campbell’s ostrich eggs and currency sheet pieces, despite being fundamentally different, are intricate, beautifully executed and elegant. Some of the graphite sketches of snakes inside the eggshells are so realistic that they almost look alive.

The images drawn onto the eggshells and cut into the currency sheets are strictly tattoo iconography: skulls, flowers, snakes. Campbell still tattoos at Saved Tattoo, his studio in Brooklyn, but these pieces transcend his origins and force viewers to ponder greater things.

“Blankness Is Not a Void” runs through June 4 at Marc Jancou Contemporary at 524 W. 24th Street in New York City, marcjancou.com.
 

For more from Richard S. Chang, follow him on Twitter.

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