Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Steven Campbell

The first milestone on the road to success--the solo show.
For the most part, artists start out young. That is, they may show prodigious talent, sometimes even as barely more than toddlers, which is then nurtured by loving, attentive parents for a dozen or more years, up through whatever form of secondary schooling is the norm. From there such creative prodigies are refined by not-necessarily-so-loving college instructors to maturity. After that, they struggle...for recognition...for success...for the next ten to twenty years. (The "starving artist" is no myth.) To make ends meet they may turn to teaching, illustrating, designing, portraits, and "art in the park" (sometimes all of the above). The best of the lot, perhaps one in a hundred, attain gallery recognition, win awards, end up in museums, before dying rich and famous (though not necessarily both). Ambition, talent, daring, luck, persistence, morality, religion, spousal support, inherited wealth, and a dogged work ethic are all are contributing factors in this complex success equation.
After a late start, success as an artist came quickly.
Steven Campbell did not start out young. Born in 1953, the Glasgow native was twenty-five years old before he ever set foot in a Glasgow College of Art classroom. At a time in life when most young artists were taking a deep breath and embarking on a career, this former engineer was what's kindly referred to as a "mature student." From 1978 to 1982, Campbell studied the trendy fad of performance art, then wisely gave it up for painting. Being a "mature student" had its advantages in terms of focus and maturity. Upon graduation, Campbell was awarded the Bram Stoker gold medal, and gained a Fulbright Scholarship which he used for further study at the Pratt Institute in New York.

Siamese Boxing Triplets and the Tarantino Dash,
1982, Steven Campbell.
Campbell's first solo show came a year later in 1983, at the Barbara Toll Gallery in New York City. This was followed in rapid succession by numerous other shows both in the U.S. and back home in Glasgow. British artists are seldom successful in both the U.S. and the U.K. Having first made his breakthrough in New York, Campbell demonstrated to his peers that there was no need for any international boundary to their ambitions. As the result of his association with Barbara Toll, Campbell was the first Scottish artist of his generation to be seriously collected in America, thus establishing a highly lucrative bridgehead for others.

I'm not sure which of these two versions (both from 1985)
ended up in the Scottish National Gallery.
Additional exhibits of Campbell's work followed at the New 57 Gallery, Edinburgh (later known as the Fruitmarket Gallery), Glasgow's Third Eye Centre, and in 1985, the Hayward Gallery, in London. The following year, one of his paintings was acquired by London's Tate Museum. In 1988, Campbell's painting A Man Perceived by a Flea (above), painted in 1985, was acquired by the Scottish National Gallery. Campbell’s art has occasionally been described as deliberately obscure. Although that is certainly the case inasmuch as his canvases are often replete with complex symbolism, the greater part of Campbell's body of work, like that of William Blake, is both beautiful and (for the most part) perfectly explicable in its references, whether to classical mythology or to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Campbell's work was commercial, as well. His exhibitions would regularly sell out.

Elegant Gestures of the Drowned after Max Ernst,
1986, Steven Campbell.
Painter Tripping Over the New,
Steven Campbell
Campbell lived dangerously. By the late 1990s his health began to fail and he faded from view. In 2002 he staged a comeback with The Caravan Club, again at the Talbot Rice Gallery, and in 2004 with an exhibition titled "Jean-Pierre Léaud - after ideas portrayed by the French actor in films directed by François Truffaut," at the Glasgow Print Studio. There, his longstanding affinity for film noir was most apparent. Both exhibitions showed he had lost nothing in terms of painterly invent-iveness and imaginative power. Camp-bell’s last major exhibition, in 2004 un-derlined the fact that he was es-sentially a pre-20th-century artist. The show featured works paying tribute to the great masters, such as his beloved Cézanne of the 19th-century. Camp-bell died unexpectedly of a ruptured appendix in August of 2007, at the age of fifty-four. He was married and had three children.

Campbell’s wife described him as a man “utterly committed to his art”, but also someone who would come home from the studio and be “a perfect dad and granddad”. Although Campbell had a reputation for being somewhat prickly, in truth he was a generous and humane with a keen appreciation of the ridiculous, and a connoisseur of the absurdities of human life. Mike Munro, the noted chronicler of Glasgow’s language and culture, tells of taking his young daughter to an early Campbell exhibition. He parked the child in a "stroller" beside one of Campbell’s large, very expensive (and sold) works. After a few minutes spent looking round, Munro returned to find that his child had been quietly filling in spaces in the painting with a crayon. When Campbell was told about the desecration, he erupted, not in anger, but in wild laughter.

Untitled (from baby faced), 2006, Steven Campbell,
one of his final paintings.


No comments:

Post a Comment