It was a warm day in Los Angeles, and we were situated atop the Ace Hotel on Broadway. To our left was a doorway to the rooftop pool, where guests and locals spent their time sipping cool cocktails, catching up on their tans, browsing Instagram, and sharing their mornings on Snapchat. We intended to join them later on – but for now, we were off to the right in the lounge area, tucked away in a corner with renowned tattoo artist Scott Campbell. Hennessy has tapped him as the next in line to design a limited edition label for their Very Special cognac. He joins a special group of artists including KAWS, Os Gemeos, Shepard Fairey, Futura, and Ryan McGinness. Mr. Campbell was dressed in a chambray shirt, a pair of dark denim jeans, and Converse. His laid-back style carried over to his demeanour – soft-spoken and articulate.
Born in Louisiana, Mr. Campbell started tattooing in his early twenties. It was at “Picture Machine”, one of the oldest shops in California, where he learned the craft. He later settled in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and opened a shop called “Saved Tattoo”, where his long list of famous clients included the likes of Heath Ledger, Orlando Bloom, and Sting.
To Mr. Campbell, a tattoo expresses who you are in many ways. “If you walked up to me on the street, you’d have an idea of how the exchange is going to be.” He continues by saying, “It could be negative or positive – but the point is that with these tattoos, I’ve decided on what I put forward to others.” Unlike fashion and trends that are in a continuous flux, tattoos are permanent and they can represent meaningful events in one’s life. “When you put on clothes, you say to yourself, ‘This is how I’m going to be on Tuesday’. But with tattoos, you’re deciding who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.”
“When you put on clothes, you say to yourself, ‘This is how I’m going to be on Tuesday’. But with tattoos, you’re deciding who you’re going to be for the rest of your life.”
The practice of tattooing can trace its roots back to ancient history. It should come as no surprise, then, that to some the process feels ritualistic. Mr. Campbell ensures trust and respect when he tattoos anyone. “If you come to me, it’s not just an aesthetic thing. I want to understand emotionally why you walked through that door and what you are trying to accomplish within yourself with this tattoo.” A good tattoo is not just about the aesthetic, but is also about the ceremonious experience that accompanies it. Mr. Campbell makes sure he acknowledges your emotions, as well as respecting the rites. He looks past our shoulders, eyes drifting along the downtown skyline, and he says, “What I try to be aware of with every tattoo is that the ritual of receiving it and the aesthetic that results from that experience does justice to what that person is going through.” The emphasis is placed on the experience. How you appreciate your tattoo is based on your experience with the artist. The way that the tattoo comes out afterwards is an extension of the good time you had in the chair.
“What I try to be aware of with every tattoo is that the ritual of receiving it and the aesthetic that results from that experience does justice to what that person is going through.”
On his collaboration with Hennessy, he mentioned that it was McGinness who called him to ask if he was interested in being a part of the next instalment. Afterwards, Mr. Campbell approached the collaboration as he would approach a tattoo project; he wanted to learn more about the brand’s story to pull moments that he could react to. He travelled to Cognac, France and visited Hennessy’s grounds to accomplish that. The result was artwork inspired by James Hennessy’s penmanship, combined with his signature black and white aesthetic. He called it “tattoo magic”, a ritual that respects the process and the final product. He likened the journey of crafting cognac to tattooing, both of which are affected by natural forces to later be immortalized into what we see in front of us. One becomes a rich cognac with a storied history, the other an image embedded upon a person’s skin that tells its own tale.
“The process of crafting cognac is very much like tattooing, both have their own history behind it.”
The limited edition Scott Campbell x Hennessy VS bottle is available now.
Learn more about the collaboration at Hennessy.
The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
The first image was taken inside Scott Campbell’s studio in Los Angeles.
The second image showcases the special label that Scott Campbell has designed for Hennesy V.S.
Photography and words by Jon Carlo Tapia.