Celebrated tattoo artist Scott Campbell is taking his installation-slash-performance piece, 'Whole Glory,' to London. Here's everything you need to know. Pictured above, Campbell at his Brooklyn studio in 2015.



Scott Campbell Takes London: Here's What You Need to Know

“Surprise me.” Two little words that can potentially carry little to no weight—as in, “Hey, which episode of the Kardashians do you want to watch tonight?” “Oh I don’t know—surprise me!” Alter the context, however, and the significance of these two words could change drastically.

Take Scott Campbell, illustrious and highly sought-after tattoo artist and owner of Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn. Campbell may be responsible for some of the most photographed tattoos out there—Marc Jacobs’, Sting’s, and Robert Downey Jr.’s, to name a few—and yet we still can’t imagine ourselves sitting down beside him, rolling up our sleeves, and saying, “Surprise me!” with even the slightest trace of chill. Nothing against Campbell—having shown as a sculptor and painter in recent years, it’d be more accurate to call him a celebrated contemporary artist rather than a tattoo artist. We’ve just never really had a strong hankering to gamble with something as inedible and irreversible as tattoos.

Blaise Cepis
Campbell, tattooing an arm at the Milk Gallery back in 2015.

And yet, with Campbell’s installation-slash-performance piece Whole Glory, it is the prospect of partaking in this exact sort of gambling that has attracted reams and reams of people.

The installation is set up thusly: on one side of a wall sits Campbell; on the other side, a participant (chosen via lottery), who sticks their arm through a hole in the wall and, in doing so, surrenders their arm as a canvas onto which Campbell can tattoo whatever he well pleases. And from the start, Whole Glory was an immense success; its first iteration was held at none other than the Milk Gallery in November 2015. It then popped up in downtown L.A. at the Shinola store this past June. And now, Londoners are getting ready for its UK iteration, which will take place at Covent Garden from October 7th to October 9th. So for anyone who’s thinking about partaking, here’s everything you need to know Whole Glory.

The Process is Spontaneous

While Campbell does sketch out some drawings beforehand, the process is largely spontaneous—and the designs he chooses are largely decided on the spot. “I have a bunch of drawings and kind of reference stuff,” he told us this past June while tattooing anonymous appendages in L.A. “But I keep it open until I see the arm.” And luckily, no one has ever walked away unhappy. Perhaps this is, in part, due to the fact that the whole process is anonymous. “It’s nice having a canvas that doesn’t have an opinion,” he told us.

He Doesn’t Take Tattoos Lightly

After all, the guy has covered virtually every inch of his skin in them. “Having all these tattoos,” as he told us back in June, “takes away the luxury of denial.” Still, that’s not to say that he takes them too seriously either. At the L.A. version of Whole Glory, he urged others not to put “too much pressure” on their first tattoos, or to think “that a tattoo has the responsibility of summarizing your whole identity in one little moment.” Because that’s “so not the case,” he said. “It’s not fair to give any symbol that much pressure.”

Lake Bell (Scott Campbell’s wife) at the closing of Campbell’s ‘Whole Glory’ installation at Milk Gallery.

No Matter What Tattoo He Decides On, You Can Guarantee it’s Going to be Good…

As nerve-racking as it would surely be to surrender your arm to Campbell, it should make you feel at least a tad more at ease that this makes him equally as nervous. “There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” he told us. “Wanting to honor the enormous trust that people are giving me.” Even more reassuring is the fact that he’s consistently driven to prove the naysayers wrong. “Every time there’s some kid with his arm through the hole and people standing around him saying ‘you’re crazy, you’re crazy,’ I fully do each tattoo with the intention of making all those friends wish that they had put their arm through there. I want them to pull their arm out and be so happy that they took that chance.”

…And Possibly Kind of Big

When we visited Whole Glory in L.A., he told us that the tattoos this time around ended up being a bit bigger than the last go-around. “I did realize this time around looking at the photos that the tattoos are getting a bit bigger,” he said. If things go similarly in London, we can only assume the tattoos will be even larger. Consider that a warning—if not a challenge.

Images by Andrew Boyle, Chris Swainston, Blaise Cepis, and Zlatko Batistich.

Organized in collaboration with Lazarides Rathbone gallery, Whole Glory will be setting up shop in London’s Covent Garden (26 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London WC2E 8NA) from October 7th to October 9th. For more information, visit the gallery’s site here

Stay tuned to Milk for more on Scott Campbell’s Whole Glory.

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