David Campbell, 36 Years Old, 13×16″ 2011
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David Campbell Is an emerging Pennsylvannia based painter who graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2007. He has shown in a number of venues including a 2007 solo show at the Rosenfeld Gallery in Philadelphia. David is a member of the Perceptual Painters Group and runs their Facebook group where he frequently posts painters images and information and has some 2,400 “friends” as of this writing. I was intrigued and impressed by his new body of paintings he refers to as his “Idiot Series” and was interested to find out more about this work as well as hear some of his thoughts on painting and his facebook group.I would like to thank David for putting the time and effort into this email interview.
Larry Groff: Can you tell us a little about your background and how you got into painting? Who and what have been some of your most significant influences? Has there been any one thing in particular that made you decide to be a painter?
David Campbell As a child I was always drawing on pieces of type-writing paper, and i suspect like most kids, my drawings were done from my imagination. This was encouraged by my father who was an airbrush illustrator through out the 70’s and 80’s. Initially, when I visited PAFA during my senior year in high school, my dad was more excited about me going there than I was. I had no idea what type of artist I wanted to be at that time, but my father thought that having the foundation of learning how to draw would eventually open up more doors in my life. Once I started attending the Academy, I developed several close friendships with other painting students. One of those friends was John Lee, who is also a Perceptual Painters member. He was 5 years older than I and had already come from another art program. But he ended up being more of an influence and a teacher than most of my professors. During the first 3 years I was obsessed with Odd Nerdrum and Rembrandt, while John was already looking at artists that I would end up gravitating to more down the road; like Gwen John, Euan Uglow and Antonio Lopez Garcia. I began to see value in artists that were more interested in “looking” and responding from observation. I guess you could say that the painting bug was placed in me when I began the Academy, but I became more interested in the idea of perception and observation towards the end of my undergrad experience.
LG: Your style and subject matter seems to have changed significantly with your “Idiot Series” paintings. Your previous work, such as the still-lifes of sculpture, explored more traditional approaches and formal issues but at the same time made paintings that play with more personably off-beat subjects such as the halloween ghosts. Your Idiot series seems to combine the quirky goofiness with sophisticated formal design and color considerations; perhaps seeking the best of both worlds. It seems important that there be an element of playfulness and humor in your work. Can you respond to these thoughts and tell us more about how the Idiot Series came to be and some of your thinking behind these paintings?
I’ve always been torn between the Formal and Narrative. At different times the Formal issues has captured more of my interest, which is great, but then I’ve had times where I’ve wanted to tell more of a story in my work. Deep down inside I revere most the artists that seem to be able to combine the two, say like Dickinson, El Greco, Goya or Balthus. -But- the Formal issues and the experience of “seeing” comes first, every freaking time. I’ve tried starting with the story first and it never seems to work out as well.
Recently i’ve noticed world views delagated to each position. Without getting too longwinded, and generally speaking, I see people partition off the two positions into two opposing world views, which I think is unfortunate. I’ve noticed that people tend to attribute Formalism more with people who are Humanists, and then attribute people of Faith more with the Narrative side. I think the fact that people are making these assumptions are worth having a conversation about.
As far as the “Idiots” go, in the Summer of my 8th grade, I visited my friend’s house in Maine. It was hot outside and we were having a “water fight” with the hose and buckets. After horsing around, I sat down in the baby pool that belonged to his younger siblings. I began pouring a bucket of water, that I now suspect was mixed with toddler urine, on top of my head and noticed the most amazing light coming thru as the water ran down in front of my eyes that I could not stop looking at. I poured the bucket of water over my head in the baby pool for about 15 more minutes. I can only assume my friend and his family were looking at me from the inside and wondering why I kept pouring the water over my head while sitting in the baby pool. I’m sure I looked pretty stupid. I guess this series comes from me looking back at myself and remembering some times where I have looked and acted like a jerk.
What might you say to people who might complain that these paintings seem offensive to people with intellectual disabilities?
DC: I realize some people may take offense at what my paintings may be implying, but it’s really just about me making fun of myself. If a comedian makes a joke about elephant trainers, I’m sure no one would be offended… Unless of course they were an elephant trainer.
LG: Do you ever worry that the self-effacing and self-portrait aspects of the subject matter in these paintings may create problems for you later? Do you think you’ve gone too far or not far enough with this subject matter and style?
DC: I don’t think I will regret this series later down the road, but you never know. I’m not really that worried about it. I think I have a couple more “Idiots” still left for me to do before I move on. I’m hoping they get a chance to be more personal and more subtle.
Fatso, 18×24″ 2012
LG: You run the perceptual painter’s group on Facebook. An earlier Perceptual Painter’s statement said in part; ” ”Observation is not an end but rather a beginning point for an emotional, formal, or imaginative statement of exploration.” At some point your “Idiot Series” painting likely turned away from an observed motif. Where do you think the boundaries lie for when a painting stops being perceptual and instead becomes imaginary? How important is observation to your painting?
DC: As I stressed earlier, Observation or being excited about what you are looking at is paramount. It must be there for me. I do think though that it is an incredible goal for any painter to be able to paint from his/her imagination. I believe Goya is one of the best to ever do that. And as far as Contemporary painters go, I believe David Fertig is top notch.
I’m honestly not quite sure where the boundaries lie between Perception and the Imagination of a painting. I do feel though that Imagination comes from what you see. I wonder what Helen Keller was picturing inside her mind when she used her imagination.
LG: What differences do you see between your latest subject matter and the post-modern type works of someone like George Condo? What do you think of the popular drive to de-skill, shock and champion ironic subject matter with much of contemporary figurative work seen in the popular, hipper Chelsea Galleries?
DC: It’s funny you mention Condo. I have a close friend who just recently drew a parallel between my work and Condo’s. While I appreciate Condo’s humor, that’s about as far as it goes for me. I’d say he is a great comedian. Sean Landers is another good example of a person with a great sense of humor who paints badly on purpose. I guess a good analogy for this approach to Art would be to compare it to a Middle School Phys Ed Class setting. When we played basketball, we always had a bunch of kids in the class that would take the game very seriously, but there was always a few guys that always tried to turn the game into a joke by throwing the ball all the way up in the rafters, or by putting it under their shirt pretending to be pregnant. The jokers were funny at first, but in the end it got kind of old and the guys that wanted to play seriously just ended up ignoring the kids that just wanted to make fun of the game. I guess that’s how I look at this current “L.A. Slacker” trend, it’s funny I guess, but it’s getting kind of old……… That said, there are times I’d rather laugh than paint.
LG: Your perceptual painter’s group on facebook has become quite popular. Can tell us how you and Brian Rego started the group and what the group is about? I understand a group show is in the planning?
DC: The group was entirely Brian Rego’s idea. Half of the members are made up of some of the painters in our graduating class in the MFA program from PAFA, so we had a bit of a bonding experience that Brian saw formulating during our time in grad school. Since then the group has grown from about 7 members to 15 and I suspect that is where we will cap it off. The group is made up of painters that are concerned with observation, but not always limited to that.
Yes, we do have several shows coming up in the future that we are very grateful for. We have two this coming January; One at Spalding University in Kentucky, and one at the University of Southern Mississipi that was organized by USM’s Marcus Michels. There are several more towards the end of 2013 and in 2014. One of which will be a collaborative show with another painting collective that we are very honored and excited to be part of.
LG: What are you working on now? What ideas or plans do you have for your future work.
DC: I’m not really working on any of my own work right at this moment, other than painting along with my figure painting class. I do have some ideas about painting some more narrative pieces that would involve working in some larger interiors and exteriors, but I’ve also missed the Still Life. I guess I’ll have to see what comes at me first.