The Sky Moves Sideways - George Campise

Published: 15 November, 2011 - Featured in Skin Deep 205, November, 2011

After having worked too much for a couple of years, George Campise experienced a calmer time by the beach in Italy before returning to San Francisco. He went back to work at Seventh Son Tattoo before recently opening Warhorse Tattoo doing “the fucking greatest job in the world”, creating something he originally was intimidated by...

George Campise never intended to be a tattoo artist at first, but his friends seemed to think he possessed some sort of talent in that field. He couldn’t see it himself, but it turns out that they were right.

“I started in 1993, a little bit by accident,” he says. “When I went to high school I had some older friends who got tattooed and they wanted me to design them. I didn’t know what I was doing but they seemed to like my art. Personally, I was always a bit intimidated by the fact that it was permanent. When I was 19, I started getting tattooed anyway, at Everlasting Tattoo in San Francisco, and I realised that I probably wouldn’t be able to make a living doing art if I didn’t tattoo.”

At the time custom tattooing was getting popular so George decided to get involved.

“I worked in night clubs back then and one of the doormen turned out to be a tattoo artist who had a friend who was opening up a new place; so he helped me out a lot, but I didn’t do a proper internship. I’m pretty much self-taught. After a year and a half, I started working at Erno Tattoo, which is not around anymore. I was there for a couple of years before I went to Everlasting Tattoo.”

To this day that’s where he’s spent the most time, but after only a couple of years he decided it was time for new surroundings, so he moved to Italy.

“I realised that I had worked like a crazy person since my wife got pregnant. My kid was five years old and I had only hung out with her during a handful of weekends. I might as well have been divorced with weekend visitation rights! At the time I was travelling a lot to conventions in Europe, mostly Germany actually, but I had some friends in Italy who invited me to come over and if I wanted to stay longer, they would set up a place for us to stay and so on. My wife had always said that if I go to live in Europe, especially Italy, I must bring the whole family.”

So he did.

“It was frustrating not to have time to spend with my kid. At Studio Adrenalin in Follonica, I only needed to work three days a week to cover my bills and we lived across the street from the beach. It was great.”

Even so, he and his family moved back after a year or so. “Our relatives were getting older and we wanted to be close to them and not have an ocean between us.”

Moving back, he spent another three years at Everlasting before he moved to Seventh Son Tattoo, and since then he hasn’t travelled at all.

“We’re thinking about trying to start doing conventions again. One year I was supposed to go to the Rome convention, but then I was in a pretty gnarly bicycle accident just the week before. I split my head open, had no memory and couldn’t walk the length of my house without needing to sleep. The year after we were in the line at the airport when we realised that our daughter’s passport would expire the next day. After that we decided to save up some money instead.”

Working in Italy he noticed two major differences from working in San Francisco.

“The shop in Italy was so small that only one person at a time was able to tattoo, which meant I had to do everything. That was more because of the shop though, not that it was in Italy. In San Francisco, however, there are so many wicked tattoo artists that it’s easy to specialise in one style. People come to you to get a certain thing. The other difference was that in San Francisco everyone’s so hell-bent on getting something unique that if two friends walk in and one is getting a dragon or something and the other guy says “oh, I want that too”, it’s going to be tense! In Italy you could have someone doing a sleeve and the next day he’ll bring in, like, his brother-in-law to get the same thing.”

Whether these aspects were good or bad, he can’t really say.

“I don’t mind doing a wide range of stuff, but I travelled lightly so I didn’t have all my reference books with me and I need time to do a tattoo properly. At the same time, it’s exciting to be out of your comfort zone and do stuff you normally wouldn’t do. Here it can get a bit mundane but it’s also refined. You find new ways of doing the same design and push yourself.”

 He describes his style as illustrative, spiced up with what seems to be a stubborn twist and a demand for perfection.

“If someone wants something traditional I have a problem just doing it the way it’s supposed to be. I need some bells and whistles, something crazy. And if I look back and see that I did my best on a piece, then that’s fine; if I know I could have done better, it drives me nuts. If I’ve been lazy it will haunt me for years, so it’s very important for me to do my best.”

And then, wouldn’t you know it, just as we were about to ready George’s profile for publishing, he only went and opened up a new studio.  Warhorse Tattoo is open Tuesday to Saturday – as you’ll see, the site is currently being built, but judging by his work published here, you just know it’s going to blow your head off.

Warhorse Tattoo

2599 Telegraph Ave
Tel: 510 649 9447


Text & Photography: Simon Lundh