Scott Campbell’s new sculpture series, They Say Miracles are Past, should be seen in person to be appreciated. The exhibition of 15 pieces that together articulate the varying phases of the moon opens tonight at OHWOW’s pop-up gallery in London, in the run up to this year’s ever-gargantuan Frieze Art Fair. Seen from a distance or in a photograph, the pieces seem a bit banal. “When I send people a picture of one, they reply, ‘But this is just a photograph of the moon’,” Campbell complains. They are in fact lunar landscapes (based on NASA photographs) carved from thick foam on a foundation of poured resin. Encased beneath a thick plane of darkened glass, they have a smooth photographic finish from afar—a reverse trompe l’oeil effect. But up close, the surfaces’ shadowy craters and brightly lit peaks are no illusion.
One might think that Campbell’s fascination with contour and depth in his art—his infamous skulls carved into stacked sheets of dollar bills have the intricate striations and topography of canyons—would stem from the relative dearth of such layers available to him when he was making his name as a tattoo artist to the stars. On the contrary, Campbell argues that it’s actually an extension of his work with ink. “I think of tattoos as carvings,” he says. “It wraps around the body, and there’s a tactile sort of depth you have to consider.” The aphoristic texts his clients have had inscribed (“May all your pain be champagne”) also make an appearance in the form of childlike scat across the lunar surfaces (again, only visible up close). “These pieces initially seemed really pristine to me,” Campbell says. “So I needed to mess them up a little, I needed to make it human again—it has to be flawed.”