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
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
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,
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
. 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.