Published  08/09/2005

Cressida Campbell

Cressida Campbell

Nevill Keating Pictures, London
7-22 July 2005

The third London exhibition of Australian artist Cressida Campbell coincided with the London bombings of 7 July and the attempted bombing of 21 July. Depicting a private and harmonious world, the works could not be in greater contrast to the mayhem of contemporary life, exemplified by the terrorist attacks. Campbell's work has always taken a private and individual path from the wider art world, but she has enjoyed consistent success and recognition. As John McDonald stated, 'Indeed, if success can be measured in terms of the percentage of works sold, Campbell is one of Australia's most successful artists'.1

Drawing on a range of subject matter, including the Australian bush and the country's rare and marvellous flora, still life and flowers, Campbell imbues her work with her personal necessity to create and her subtle mastery of art technique and composition.

The acuity of her art is informed by a very wide range of interests: the paintings of Italian artist, Paolo Uccello; the landscapes of British artist, Stanley Spencer, and Australian painter, Fred Williams; Cretan pottery and Persian rugs; the memory of colour from travels in India and elsewhere; and the sight of cargo ships on water. However, it is her pictorial concerns with the linear rather than the tonal, the screen-like rather than the single perspective, the emphasis on detail rather than the overview and the intimacy of the tangible rather than the representation of the distant, that align her more closely to an oriental than to a traditionally occidental view of the world.2

From her student days, it was clear that Cressida Campbell would not involve herself with the mainstream, in which the emphasis was on conceptual art. After school, she enrolled at the Sydney College of the Arts but attended for only three days. From 1978-79, she went instead to East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) where there was more emphasis on drawing. There she worked with printmaking, adopting the woodcut technique to her own personal end. In 1980, she attended the Yoshida Hanga Academy in Tokyo, moving from painting to printmaking again in 1983. From this early stage her works were greatly sought after; and yet she did not alter her very personal and painstaking process to meet the increased demand. Drawing is fundamental to the process, requiring a great deal of time. Working on plywood, the drawing is made directly onto the wood and each line carved using a small engraving tool. Small brushes are used to apply watercolours to the separate sections of the picture. When the colour application has been made, the image is freshened with a spray of water and a single impression taken. A hand-coloured wooden block and a single print, its mirror image, are produced.

Campbell herself is devoted to the craft of her art and to an essentially private life. She also avoids metaphysical discourse or poetic titles. The titles of her works are literal: 'Hydrangeas with magnolia leaves' (2005), 'Plums with Indian cloth' (2004), 'Mandarin with Chinese plate' (2004). Yet, these are poetic images, where commonplace objects are transformed into timeless and life-enhancing compositions. The credibility of her imagery is achieved with a balance between everyday experience and an appreciation of a wide range of artistic precedents.

Campbell's subjects, such as a pile of washing up, speckled fruit with textures of skin-like subtlety, Chinese famille rose bowls, jugs and vases of flowers, and other household trivia, are taken from the real world around her without pretence or artifice, and transformed in her paintings and prints into compositions of enduring human values and certainty. Her art is a compelling demonstration of the power of the experience over interpretation.3

In fact, her emphasis on composition, the heightened use of colour and the focus on shape and form, bring her works closer to a Japanese aesthetic than Western naturalism. She creates a cohesive, personal aesthetic that captures the spirit of Australian women artists such as Margaret Preston and Margaret Olley, and yet, takes their examples into her own understated, intimate world.

In the tradition of French colourists, Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, Campbell seeks the creation of a decorative art, which resonates with the profundity of the everyday. These works have a refreshing and enduring quality that represents the need to focus, and recovers the ability to observe.

Dr Janet McKenzie

1. McDonald J. Cressida Campbell. The Australian Financial Review Magazine. Sydney: June 2003: 46.
2. Waterlow N. Introduction: Cressida Campbell, Recent Paintings, 6 - 27 July 2001. London: Nevill Keating Pictures Ltd, 2001.
3. Capon E. Introduction: Cressida Campbell. Brisbane: Nevill Keating Pictures/ Philip Bacon Galleries, 2005: 3.

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