SCOTT CAMPBELL: If You Don’t Belong, Don’t Be Long is a 208-page compendium of tattoos, works on paper, burnt tortillas, granite tombstones, enamel holograms, and graphite on ostrich eggshells. Basically, everything that makes up Scott Campbell as an artist in one portable volume.

Produced in collaboration by Campbell's gallery, OH WOW, and Rizzoli, the book succeeds through a thrilling collection of images. The opening pages, produced on parchment, are filled with tattoo stencils. Readers flip what feels like living history. These are the images that Campbell has worked on the body, and conversely the images Campbell works into his fine art.

The thrust of the book —particularly the essays by Al Moran, Justin Theroux, and Richard Prince— is how Campbell manages to balance tattoo and art. With celebrity patrons (Marc Jacobs included), Campbell is something of a media darling, which works well with his artistic mystique.

 

With celebrity patrons (Marc Jacobs included), Campbell is something of a media darling, which works well with his artistic mystique.

 

His personal style, which mixes hand-lettering and classic tattoo motifs, though is never opposed to a pop culture nod, is immediately recognizable. Whether on skin or in his trademark currency cutouts, there is a penchant for playful phrases that prompt thought and allow Campbell to share a skill in shaping letters. There are obvious inspirations from the antique and classic tattoo.

Campbell, in many ways, is aided but prevailing myths about tattooing. His balance, here viewed (and mostly just sold) as talking an "ordinary" language and giving it new form, is not much different from 19th-century tattoo artists talking typical parlor art and turning it into a body mark. The interplay of tattoo and popular image is what makes the work historically interesting. What makes Campbell interesting is his particular vision of reforming ubiquitous imagery and giving it new narrative function. 

In published form, Campbell's tattoos sit neatly sectioned against examples of his fine art. The connections are clear. As are the methods. Compare his inked ribbons and delicate paper cutting, and a portrait of an artist obsessed with detail emerges. Campbell, we find, is an artist who excels at granting what he knows poetic voice.

For that alone, the book is remarkably fun. (And, beautifully printed). It is informative as well, providing a strong sense of the artist's development over time.

Sadly, however, it suffers from blustery comment that tries too much to set Campbell apart rather than situate him squarely in the contemporary mileu.

© SCOTT CAMPBELL: If You Don’t Belong, Don’t Be Long, Rizzoli New York, 2012. $39.95.