Oil on Canvas 2001
Green Man at the Crossroads
Over the years Steven was constantly researching new material. He could be inspired by a building, a view, an article he read, remembrances of times past, like us all, his mind was a sum of many parts.
This particular image was made from just such a combination. The building top left is Rosslyn Chapel. He had been told of the existence of Rosslyn by his good friend the photographer Ron O’Donnell who took us there on a visit. From that point on he was captivated not only by the building, it’s extraordinary carvings with their hidden messages but by the story of the Apprentice Column. N
The story of the murder of the apprentice by his master was to feature in several works over the next few years. (Look top right to see the column and the apprentice.)
Moving across to the central figures we can see the Green Man in conflict with a falling figure dressed in a quasi prison suit of arrows. The Green Man is believed to symbolise the circle of life, death and rebirth. He is a pagan symbol that heralds Spring after a long winter and the renewal of lush vegetation such as can be seen in the mid ground and foreground of the painting.
I was listening to my good friend Edi Stark’s podcast with Steven and he talks about the crucifix in terms of composition and I now can see so often how he employs it in his work, as he does here.
‘The reason they did so many crucifixions in the Renaissance was nothing to do with the fact they were getting paid for it, it’s cause it’s the best thing you can use for a sense of composition in a painting. As soon as you’ve got a crucifix in a painting you’re on a winner right away. Cause you get that angle shot in there from the right, Jesus is hanging up the top so you get a tree coming in from the left and then low down you have an opposite side and then you have something heavy down to the bottom to show the weight of the cross and all the rest of it but you always had the cross to start with . . . whereas I don’t!’
Easy to see all of that being employed here. The two round straw targets are the pmersonal experience . . . memory of the NY subway tragedy (mentioned in previous entries) where Steven witnessed a young black man with the bottom part of his legs missing after a failed suicide attempt. To the left we have the figure of the young woman being raised from the ground by the power of the Green Man, a symbolic birth of Spring while the group to the right with the child represents the 3 ages of man/woman.
The Family of the Accidental Angel
Collage on Canvas 1991
174 x 121.5 cm
This collage was exhibited as part of the LOVE exhibition curated by Lynsey Young for Tramway.
The notes in the paperback which accompanied the exhibition read as follows:
‘These large scale, predominantly two dimensional collages were each made over a period of weeks and months. Campbell worked on them relentlessly, going out of his way to make the process as labour intensive as possible and working instinctively with his materials which included feathers, found paper, textiles and tapestry kits that he completed himself.’
At this time we lived in a remote farmhouse where family life centred around our kitchen which was warmed by an ancient sky blue AGA. It doubled as our ‘tumble dryer’ as we would never have had such a modern piece of equipment, preferring always a good old fashioned pulley which I still swear by to this day.
The area above the AGA had 3 thin poles secured to the wall with wooden batons so it was quickly commandeered by Steven as the ideal way to dry the painted string he would plan to use the following day.
As was mentioned in the essay, this method of working was laborious and time consuming but that in itself was the key to his desire to make the process such an important part. The ritualistic nature soothed his mind in the same way that shell shocked WW1 veterans would create wonderful models from matchsticks.
Instead of gluing the string directly onto the canvas and then painting on top, he would work out his colour palette for the area to be worked on and cut metre length pieces of string which would be individually painted and set to dry across the poles ready to be used the following day.
If you study the area, top left, which becomes the wing and the figure emerging/retreating from the waterfall you get some idea of the complexity and labour intensity of the task. The wing itself is akin to that of a butterfly alighting on a sun kissed rock to rest and it is the visual trick of the eye which seems to see it form an attachment with the figure giving him at once, in that moment of perception, the appearance of an Angel with the mother and child being akin to the Holy Family.
The figure in the waterfall referenced an old legend in the area where we lived that at the time of the Rising in 1745 some prominent Jacobites had hidden behind the waterfall ( close to our house) when being pursued by the English soldiers. Most likely untrue but romantic nonetheless and it was fun for our children to try it out.
The following is again a quote from Lynsey Young’s writing for the exhibition:
‘The work progressed slowly and painstakingly at the kitchen table, amid the rhythms of family life, the resulting works are testament to Campbell’s modest needs, his restless imagination and his experimental nature but, above all, to his sensitivity to the world around him.
As he said himself, ‘I’m in art for the romance, the beauty of it.’