Rebecca Campbell: Asking questions just leads to more questions
Architecture & Interiors
There has been so much written about Rebecca Campbell’s artwork that it could be possible for me to have constructed this entire profile from quotations, either from the writers or the quotations they drew from within Campbell. Her vision seems to pierce like a well into an internal and seemingly unfathomably deep reservoir of autobiographical and allegorical visions and hallucinations where fantasy and reality co-exist in a single moment of tension that seems, more often than not, to be at peace with itself.
“Our times demand that we embrace paradox. In response, instead of parsing out the incompatible, my experiment is the opposite. I seek the radiant, the abject, deliverance and damage in concert. These paintings are a manifesto for rapture, in spite of, or even in debt to, the abyss.” – RC
The world that Rebecca Campbell creates through her confident and decisive brushstrokes is one that is immediately accessible. Figurative painting blended with photographically staged scenarios Campbell deftly illustrates a version of our world, much like a parallel universe, influenced by fairy tales, pop culture, motherhood, puberty, lust, and ultimately man’s relationships with nature (mainly flora, fauna, weather, water, mud, sand) and our relationship with our own mortality.
“The paint needed to be fierce, lean and fresh. I try to understand the atomic blast through heat, light, obliteration and full spectrum doom. I try to understand the rainbow through the mud it arcs against, suspension of pigment in oil, and a utopia flickering in and out of cliché. I try to know a woman’s beauty as much from a window through her skin as from the shine of her mouth.” – RC
In Rebecca Campbell’s current show, a nuclear explosion makes for better sunsets and double rainbows; what could be devastating makes for unexpected optimism and joy in the face of imminent danger.
“When a person is having an acute experience of nostalgia, time collapses and the past, the present and the future become one.” -RC
Campbell’s past is a fairytale in itself. Born into a family of seven children, Campbell was the youngest of six children who was gifted by her mother with an unexpected escape hatch from Mormon Salt Lake City church-dominated life by allowing Rebecca to read controversial books and take art and dance lessons.
As a result her mind was exposed to a host of scenarios that were usually stuck behind closed doors or not even in existence (gender and civil rights were among the first scenarios that Campbell became aware of as being inexplicable and therefore, paradoxical.) With knowledge come questions and the canned answer “Pray about it,” didn’t seem to be answering any questions, just making for more. She should continue praying, but when the answers didn’t come to her, she was just told that she, “wasn’t praying right.”
At 14, she left the church, at 18 she left home to work at a ski resort where she met her now husband (and father of their 2 kids). In 1990, They headed westward to the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland for her BFA, but came back to Salt Lake City where Campbell worked as an independent curator. In 1998, Campbell received a residency at the Vermont Studio Center, and in 1999 moved to Los Angeles, where she earned her MFA from UCLA in 2001. She was quickly snatched up by LA Louver, the 8,000 square foot architectural dream-space designed by Frederick Fisher (the architect behind the Broad Foundation and the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, P.S.1 in NYC, and the Galef Fine Arts Center at OTIS College of Art and Design) . Since joining the gallery’s stable, Campbell has had 4 solo shows with work ranging from painting to drawing, sculpture, installation and video.
“I’m an unapologetic romantic/optimist wrestling with powerful bouts of nihilist pragmatism. This duality runs through the formal decisions in the work as well. Abstraction/Realism, Metaphor/Material, Formal/Conceptual, Thick/Thin, Bright/Muddy, Tight/Loose I could go on and on.” – RC
I’ve been a fan of Campbell’s work for a while, as well as her curatorial projects (perhaps you remember this blog post about the artist’s game “Telephone”, online at the Huffington Post, which is still going strong.)
When I look at art, especially painting and process oriented works, I take a CSI approach to it. I piece the evidence together and begin to ask questions. Lucky for me, Campbell isn’t shy about talking about her work, which is great, because most artists aren’t really into giving away their trade secrets.
Campbell pre-primes her surfaces, including the sides, with a vivid hue (in the picture above – a brilliant cerulean) and then leaves bits of the dazzling ground showing through, but why? Is it a clue to get the viewer to notice the accumulation of paint onto the surface and as the lack of it?
The sides are exposed for several reasons, to reveal process, they subtly reflect on the wall and create an aura/frame for the piece, they conceptually reference at the objectness of painting as well as the idea that nothing, not even white is “neutral.”First, I prime the entire surface some brilliant color like cadmium green or rose madder. I do this for 2 reasons, giving an expressive root to the painting, and also to establish an environment for retinal mixing instead of literal mixing which I find fresher and more contemporary in reference than glazing.
I do sometimes premix color but that means I may mix as many as 30 colors just for a skin tone. Also, after the colors are mixed I always lay out a full palette of paint and tint into the mixed colors so I end up with endless combinations.
The brushwork is executed with such speed and confidence (see mountainside above for example), it almost appears like a flurry of brushstokes coming together in concert for a single moment, which Campbell has captured, much like capturing an instant within a photograph. She tells me about her photographic process:
I prefer to stage all of the elements in one photo session but that isn’t always possible and I resort to Photoshop. There is a lot of evolution that happens … as I leave room for models to interpret the image through body language and sometimes their own clothing or styling. I like to be relieved of my own limitations by being open to what the final image will actually be. I also take lots of photos while the model is wandering around or of people who might be watching the process and sometimes abandon my initial idea completely for something that happens in the moment that proves more compelling. When the photography is done I often use multiple photos to compose the final image.
I ask after favorite brushes that Campbell relies on as her main players in her paintings, most notably the magic produced through the use of filberts.
I do use filberts a lot, they seem to be able to produce the most varied mark. You can go from a pin stripe to a fat plane in one stroke and can pull off in a line a curve or a shag. I also use angles but not usually flats. The real work horses of my studio though are chip brushes. I would say in the big paintings I use 3 and 4 inch chip brushes for at least 80% of the painting. In the small paintings I still use chips at least 50% of the time just small sizes.
There are some acid-tripped out, anti-gravity effects in the areas where the oil paint mixes with the turpentine, let’s talk about that. Do you have some sort of Spin-Art contraption that allows you to rotate the canvas on the wall? These are huge paintings, how do you do it?
This last series of paintings had more turp than I’ve ever used before. It seems like I’m always adding vocabulary (palette knife, turkey basters, atomizers) to the marks and turp was something I had experimented much with. When you are using a lot of turp it can get really muddy quick and I guess I was finally ready to embrace the mud. Conversely the way turp mixes with turp when you don’t touch it with the brush is kind of like marbleizing, very jewel like, another kind of optical mixing. The paintings are rotated all the time, rotated flat on the wall, on an angle, sometime I shake them, I have even had an assistant turn the painting while I’m painting or throwing paint at the canvas. I also had a “bridge” built that rolls over the surface of a painting that is lying on the ground so I can hover over the middle of it and pour or do whatever.
Below: the painting above, but completed. Check out the difference between the primed canvas with “cartoon” versus the finished painting. Notice that the rose madder shows through like a glow from the figure.
Rebecca Campbell: Romancing the Apocalypse @ LA Louver, 45 North Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA, USA; www.lalouver.com; March 10 – April 16, 2011