AboutStART SPACE is pleased to announce an exhibition of new paintings by British artist Christopher Campbell. Entitled Epoch and consisting of about 40 paintings Christopher explores further the feeling of a brooding malevolence that has always been present in his work. In Epoch a sense of disquiet and alienation is created, with the placing of animal life in landscapes both rural and urban. These are not like the paintings made in the 18th and 19th Centuries to record the cattle and livestock belonging to rich farmers and landowners, nor are they the rather neurotic looking horses depicted by George Stubbs. These paintings are concerned with menace and threat.
The usual boundaries that define the territories of humans and animals have been disturbed and unbalanced. The animals now have the upper hand.
What are the stories that inform these paintings?
There is a collection of pre-existing stories that I feel the work does have reference to, made, intentionally or not, by the artist. Those are the stories or rather themes contained in the books of the Old Testament, in which a warlike God uses the forces of nature, and interestingly, particular animals to punish humankind for their collective ‘sins’ or as an act of revenge. For instance, the separate plagues of frogs, flies, and locusts sent to punish the Egyptians for their enslavement of the Jews, from the Book of Exodus. And of course in the story of Noah’s Ark told in The Book of Genesis, all humankind is destroyed by a worldwide flood. All that is, except Noah and his family, with Noah being given, like Adam before him in the Garden of Eden, stewardship of the animal kingdom.
Has the presence of the animals in Campbell’s paintings to do with the destruction of human kind by a God-like force, who now bestows the contemporary world to the animal kingdom, a return to an idyllic Garden of Eden, but before the creation of Adam, and of Eve?
Campbell himself is not interested in the particular symbolism, religious or secular, of the animals and birds that he places in his paintings, wanting only that they should each appear to be ‘believable’ that they may have wandered in from ‘a few fields over’.
This reference to the Garden of Eden is interesting when seen also in the context of the exhibition, American Sublime, Landscape Paintings in America 1820 to 1880, held at Tate Britain in 2002 and which Campbell now considers, with hindsight, to have made an impression on him. In the paintings in that show, the landscape of 19th Century America is given the full Wide Screen Technicolor treatment to portray the splendor and awesome power of God’s Creation, and thus, evoking the sublime e, defined by the British Theorist Edmund Burke, a century earlier as: (cont.)
“Whatever is fitted in any sort to excite the ideas of pain or danger …” 1
In paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Frederick Church, Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, and Sandford Gifford the expansive American landscape is viewed primarily in religious terms having:
“… high and holy meaning, only surpassed by the light of Revelation.” 2
Their paintings, often of vast size, are, like Campbell’s, also devoid of humans, and depict not the old decaying sinful land of Europe, but a new land full of promise, an unsullied and innocent Garden of Eden, the Garden before The Fall.
Daniel Lehan / London/ January 2007
1 Edmund Burke, On The Sublime and Beautiful, 1757.
2 Asher Durand. Letters on Landscape Painting. no 2. The Crayon. Jan 17, 1855, Page 34
A catalogue to accompany the exhibition will be available for sale from the gallery.
Christopher Campbell has recently been selected as one of the finalists for the Celeste Art Prize 2007.