The Art of Steven Campbell

13 Sep — 21 Oct 2017 at Marlborough Fine Art in London, United Kingdom

14 SEPTEMBER 2017
The Art of Steven Campbell, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art
The Art of Steven Campbell, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Marlborough Fine Art

Marlborough Fine Art is pleased to present a retrospective of celebrated Scottish painter Steven Campbell (1953-2007). The show consists of a selection of works made between 1983 and his untimely death in 2007.

This major exhibition is rare insight into the career of an artist who is considered to have pioneered the renaissance of Scottish art in the 1980s. It is the first major exhibition in London since his solo show at Marlborough Fine Art in 2009. Campbell, by the consensus of his peers and critics, was considered one of the most influential artists to emerge from the Scottish art scene, and this exhibition highlights the relevance and importance of his work today to a new generation of artists and critics. Best known for his monumental figurative paintings, Campbell’s unique works emerged from an array of personal and literary inspirations to create surreal narratives which offer Campbell’s comment on social and human conditions.

His complex paintings often depict recurring characters in dream-like scenarios, which are full of humour and ironic art historical references and are open to interpretation by the viewer. After several years in the steelworks and engineering industry, Campbell made a drastic career change and enrolled at Glasgow School of Art in 1978. During his first 3 years in the School, Campbell studied installation and performance art, which became notable influences within his immersive and theatrical paintings. Towards the end of his studies, Campbell was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and moved to New York in 1982 where he made a sensational impression on the art scene, receiving acclaim for his highly original and thought-provoking works. Campbell’s earlier paintings from the 1980s drew on a wide range of sources and imagery, often presenting unknown bulky figures wearing tweed suits, reminiscent of Stanley Spencer’s figures in the wartime ‘Glasgow Shipyards’ poised in dangerous and absurd situations. This can be seen in Searching for Fossils at Night, 1984, in which the notion of painting as performance is exemplified.

As a surprise to many, Campbell moved back to Glasgow in 1987 to allow himself respite from his fast-paced life in New York. During this time his work became more expressive with a richer application of paint. As figurative painting became less fashionable in the 1990s, this proved a difficult period for Campbell and he started to experiment with different materials and themes within his work. Between 1990-1991, he began incorporating collage into paintings such as Birth of Eurithia with Drowned Family, 1991. The solemn undertone and dark irony within this work became a recurring theme, reflecting his own personal struggles during this period. Throughout his varied career, Campbell explored ‘dark expressionistic figuration, graphic illustrative drawing, mixed-media assemblage, impressionism, a Matisse-like sun-bleached palette, and towards the end of his life, in 2006 and 2007, a form of hyper-vivid psychedelic realism.’[1] Within his later works, Campbell took influence from not only Surrealist artists but film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. His turn towards the edge of Surrealism can be noted in Untitled II from the ‘Fantômas’ Series’, 2006-07, which sees the return Campbell’s suited character framed within a more puzzling and absurd narrative than before.

Despite the variations and changes within his practice over the years, Campbell’s works present a highly distinctive and original aesthetic, in an intelligent, powerful and a sometimes autobiographical style of painting.