Alright, sure, I admit it: I do like to take shots at scratchers now and then on the blog because quite frankly, they deserve it. Scratchers are scum. There, I’ve said it. And I know that it’s at least arguable that some great, currently established tattooists started off as scratchers, but let’s be serious here – there’s no real reason to be a scratcher. Back in the day when no one knew how to be in contact with anyone else, and the tattoo world was kind of an invite only scene where crotchety old Yoda-esque tattooists had to be sought out and learned from in some far away mountain range or dingy basement, sure, it was semi-understandable why some kid from Shitstain, Idaho would just fiddle around with homemade equipment at friend’s parties. But those days are gone and the information age is upon us. You can’t swing a dead cat anymore without hitting someone who runs a tattoo studio.
Yet despite, my disdain for scratchers, I believe that there is a DIY tattoo culture that should be recognised and which has a history practically as lengthy as tattoo itself. I’m talking about prison tattoos. No matter where you go in the world, there are prisons and in those prisons are people who have tattoos that were not done by Kat Von D or Tim Hendricks. These tattoos were done by other inmates, with equipment that somewhere along the line typically included human urine.
Tattoo artist extraordinaire Scott Campbell is someone who understands the culture of prison tattoo. Some time after a six-week stint in a maximum security prison in which he made tattoo machines, met prisoners and tattooed them, Campbell created water colour paintings of the tattoo machines that he built while in the Mexican prison. The works were unveiled at a recent solo art exhibit in Los Angeles titled “Things Get Better“. The art itself is very cool, but Campbell is also one of those highly creative individuals who embraces all aspects of tattoo culture, seeing the art within it all. I guess it goes to show that there can always be a good side to dodgier aspects of the culture – that art thrives in the most unlikeliest of places.
Still, it takes a great artist to uncover it, so don’t expect me to be singing the praises of scratchers any time soon. For now though, Campbell’s work is definitely setting a new standard – one that I certainly am totally in favour of.