Scott Campbell's Whole Glory Project Returns to NYC
Scott Campbell may be one of the most famous tattoo artists in the country, but his work space at The Other Art Fair is hardly glamorous; squeezed in between two temporary walls, Campbell sits facing one tiny little hole, wherein strangers will stick their arm through for a mystery tattoo of the artist’s design. This is the seventh rendition of Campbell’s Whole Glory project, and this time around, it has an added bonus: it’s presented by Free Arts NYC, a nonprofit providing mentorship for underserved youth. Free Arts NYC is also the official Charity Partner of The Other Art Fair.
Whole Glory has taken Campbell around the world, to places like Frieze London, Art Basel Miami, Moscow, Shanghai, and, of course, Milk Gallery. And while the nerves persist with each new anonymous canvas that meets his needle, the little knot in his stomach is not quite so big as it was when Whole Glory made its debut.
“The first ones, obviously I felt the weight of the responsibility that I had,” he says. ”It made me realize that with a normal tattoo dynamic, there’s a shared liability and shared credit for the tattoo, because it’s a collaboration with that person. They have their input and I have my input. Whereas in this situation, it’s all my input. I’m much more confident with it now, having taken that leap of faith over and over again with positive results. It’s just fun. I get to kind of do what my hands are good at doing without asking permission.”
Campbell’s initial motivation for starting Whole Glory was to create his art without the added responsibility of being therapist, friend, confidant, etcetera, for his clients. But with a literal wall between them, some figurative wall is inevitably lifted; and the end result is a much more intimate experience than previously imagined.
“You’re very much a therapist and palm reader, all in one,” Campbell says. “I liked the idea of doing tattoos without that care taking dynamic. What if we just do the work? Yes, this dynamic does remove that element, but not completely. It more just kind of postpones it. I have a stronger connection with these people than if we did it otherwise. It was much more of a jumping off a cliff for them. I’m so much more appreciative and grateful for their confidence. On their end, it’s like, ‘Holy shit! That was so scary!’ But it all worked out in the end, and here we are! In efforts to make it more sterile, it kind of made it more intimate in a way.”
The Whole Glory experience draws in every type of person; not just, as Campbell jokingly describes, “scumbags like me with disposable arms, already covered in terrible tattoos.” His experience was quite the opposite—many had come in the hopes of getting their first ever piece of ink.
“Thinking about it, one of the biggest inhibitors of people getting tattooed is the pressure of deciding the first one. If you only have one tattoo, it has the responsibility of being your only tattoo. If I took that responsibility out of their hands and took it on, at least regardless of what is on your arm, you’ll have a good story about where you got it.”
Whole Glory is so much more than a good story, but that’s certainly part of the experience—reminiscing, after the fact, for years to come. And that’s likely why people now come into Campbell’s permanent shop with one very simple, albeit bold, request: “Do whatever you want!”
“I used to hear those words and be like, ‘Ok, but look through some references.’ Now, I believe them. Everything I do, it’s a part of what makes tattooing so much fun and so special. You never have a blank canvas to work with. It’s not like painting or drawing where you have a blank page and you have to put something on to it that’s totally of your own inspiration. It always has some context that you have to address. I like that. You always have a starting place, even if it’s as vague as someone’s bare arm. When people tell me to do whatever I want, I will, but it will be in some way a reaction to who is standing in front of me.”
Featured image courtesy of Andy Boyle, others courtesy of The Other Art Fair
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