Terry Campbell, The Future is Coming
Terry Campbell paints large intimate portraits. The figures loom over the viewer on grounds focused by crumbly painterly surfaces. Flat horizon lines elongate torsos. Set in open landscapes or similarly broody interiors, sincerity dominates. Campbell is not fleshing out preconceived ideas, but working intuitively to build a bodily structure.
Perhaps he’s making narratable documents where meaning is endlessly postponed. There is no real logical consistency to the storytelling, nor is there a definitive conclusion drawn. Sometimes when I look at Campbell’s paintings I think about the disconnect held within works by an artist like Marc Chagall and yet I sense that Campbell is not in that ephemeral space–the one Chagall held and used to enthrall viewers. Campbell’s colors are too earthy and the ground in his painting is too flat. He hasn’t left us yet.
In The choices made, the surface is featureless with only a line drawn through the painting’s plane to bring the autobiographical figures down to where the feet just touch to earth or ground. The male figures fingers and eyes trace the female figures neck and tips of fingers. She is just slightly turned away. Her elongated torso exacerbates a sense of longing. Possibly there is more to her not yet seen? How can the artist truly narrate for the viewer when there is this sense of the story being unfinished, unknown? Or is that the point? That we only see snippets of the narrative yet presume to understand the beginning, middle and end.
Or perhaps the artist Campbell is not telling a story, but instead capturing pure emotion as I see in a painting like The future is coming. Campbell paints from a vulnerable place connected with materiality. Objects, line, shadow and paint form a connection with the here and now. Have you read the collected stories of Raymond Carver? His sparse emblematic stories work in much the same way. Place is only sketched out full enough to hold the reader to the ground, while people loom large and fill up the spare outline of place.
I for one will miss seeing Campbell’s paintings develop over time at his Redline studio where he’s nearing the end of his residency. Visitors have the luxury of watching an empty canvas begin to be defined through drawing and abstracted shapes and then get filled in with blocked out layers of color. Even when Campbell’s not in his studio the space is full. I can’t say that about every artist studio I visit and it is something I love to see–the lived in places. Yes. That is what Campbell’s paintings are–lived in places.
On my latest visit, his Redline studio was filled with paintings from a series called The Future is Coming for his current exhibit at Pirate: Contemporary Art. Especially full of turmoil these canvases seem to seek balance among a plethora of ladders, chairs, trees and crutches. If you’ve ever used crutches you may recall that first movement–weight on the arms, the wooden legs held in your hands–and that moment between an impending fall or balance, push-off, land on one foot. Makes me wonder where Campbell will go now as he moves out of Redline and into his future. I can’t wait to see where his foot will land.
Terry Campbell graduated from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in 2005 and has spent the last few years as an artist in residence at Redline. Campbell is also a member of Pirate: Contemporary Art where his latest work will be on exhibit Friday, July 13-29, 2012.