Continuing with our 2020 feature of images from our Steven Campbell Calendar, Carol Campbell discusses our May selection:
Portrait of Two Cousins with the Same Mother who left them Alone when she was Seventeen. Collage on Canvas 1991.
In the couple of years leading up to this group of works some life changing events had taken place.
The following is from Duncan Macmillan’s book, The paintings of Steven Campbell The Story so Far:
‘In response to these events and in a dark mood, between 1990 and 1991 he made a series of collages. These mattered to him profoundly. It was as though he had to start from scratch again and he struggled with the brutal business of making them till his fingers bled. They took him months of painstaking labour. The Matisse technique of papier découpé, which in part they use, was designed to make picture making easy, but it is as though Campbell deliberately went out of his way to adopt a technique that makes collage difficult. These collages are made up, not just of cut-out paper, but from lengths of coloured string, cut and glued to the surface to create an effect like tapestry, embroidery, or more banally like haircord carpet and turning expression on its head.
In proportion to his wish to make something new from the language of painting, the limits of the painter’s art are something that Campbell has been more aware of than most. Here in this group of collages from 1990-91, he has consciously grappled with them directly.’
This is what Steven said about these works, in conversation with the author (Duncan Macmillan):
‘ I thought people would be attracted by the sheer craziness of building a work up starting with a piece of string. It was only the madness I was interested in. To do the task was all I believed in. I only believed in applying string every day’.
The image itself shows two seated male figures conjoined by a house and two butterflies. Steven used the butterflies often to represent a heart or love, at other times as a metamorphosis of change.
Steven’s brother Graham had died very suddenly a couple of years earlier so the figures although only acknowledged as cousins do represent the family bond symbolised in the shared house, the love of family and the change, for one, from a physical to a spiritual existence.