Rebecca Campbell: Painting Feminine Power
Frank M. Doyle Arts Pavilion, Orange Coast College
Through March 24, 2022
Written by Liz Goldner
Artists’ works are often autobiographical; yet Rebecca Campbell’s artistic oeuvre is as much a Jungian analysis of the inner depths of her psyche, as it is about her life trajectory.
The 51-year-old grew up in Salt Lake City, attending the Mormon Church, in a “fundamentally patriarchal system in which men were granted supernatural powers from God, and women were left to fend in the ordinary bodies allotted them.” Not surprisingly, she spent her teenage and adult years exploring the mystique behind “feminine power,” particularly as that power relates to her artwork.
Campbell is drawn to images of young women, rainbows, fireworks, suburban life and atomic explosions. She adds, “I chase life and death, light, scale, power, and carnality with my brush.” And she doesn’t consider her figurative paintings as portraits, “but rather as symbolic narratives or dream sequences.”
Often speaking in poetic-like phrases and transcribing these musings onto canvasses and collages, Campbell flushes out her memories, dreams, frustrations and fears. Indeed, her adult life has been a creative journey of discovery of feminine power, which is “infinite and undefinable as a thing or an action…It is the defiance of a 16-year-old girl pitting her fragility against God and the father in hopes of winning her freedom,” she explains.”
Campbell was that 16-year-old girl when she was told by Mormon elders that she shouldn’t go to college because doing so would make her unhappy. Those denigrating words became the catalyst for her exploration of her early childhood, while “reimagining family portraits and Polaroid snapshots to excavate the past and generate future self-portraits.” Rethinking the harsh dictates of her early life also enabled her to attend college and graduate school, and to become an art teacher and artist who has exhibited nationally.
Her large oil on canvas “Salt Palace” (2005) depicts her teenage self standing on the deck of her Salt Lake City home, her back to the viewer, while staring at a powerful man, representing her father. The actual Salt Palace, Campbell explains, is a convention and concert center where she attended her first concert. While the painting appears to be about the powerful man on the balcony, it is really about the girl (representing Campbell) whose physical presence in the work is so big that she becomes its driving force—or the reimagined budding artist.
Regarding her painting “Paradox” (2020), Campbell explains that at the start of the pandemic, she refocused her work on her children, especially on her daughter Andromeda, who lost her twin sister to medical error early in life. As her daughter’s life and her own were “split up” by that devastating event, she made the painting as a Diptych, but split it unconventionally from top to bottom, enabling her daughter to gaze downward at her reflection in the water, and to perhaps conjure up the image of her deceased sister.
Her series of a dozen 30 x 32 inch acrylic on paper paintings were created soon after she started college and didn’t fit in, as she says. She therefore painted what she thought the other students saw in her. Working from her intuition, she created each piece in one day, and she titled each painting with a female name, such as “Allison,” “Amy,” “Jo” and “Mae.” as each one represented a different aspect of herself. Her final painting in the series, inspired by her biblical studies and titled “Eve,” inadvertently included a black eye. She was so unnerved about that inclusion that it became her last painting in the series.
In 2011, while in graduate school, Campbell painted a series of abstract portraits of classmates as clowns, including “Fool, Seer (Kyla)” and “Fool, Seer (Christy),” now in this exhibition. “I was looking at gender equity in art, which is abysmal,” she says. “I saw these fantastically talented grad students making work that was blowing me away. And their chances of success were low. I thought that they were idiots or geniuses” (or clowns). She decided to tailor each clown portrait to the personal practice of the artist. Kyla who is from a tiny town in Nevada who creates work about the American west, became the rodeo clown. She depicted Christy with makeup and clothing evoking a stylish French woman, as an example of a person “with incredible cultural currency but still a clown.”
“Miss April 1971” (2015), perhaps her most revelatory and interesting painting, is based on the artist’s desire to understand more about herself by researching pop culture from her birth year. She unearthed a “Playboy Magazine” from April 1971, re-created the seductive centerfold in oils, and collaged and covered much of the model’s body with various tapes, including duct, masking, graphic design and medical tape, the latter implying that the naked centerfold is a wounded figure that needs fixing.
The resulting fractured art piece evokes work from modern art movements, including Russian Constructivism and Cubism. Regarding the latter, Campbell wrote, “Picasso would twist a woman in space so you understand the totality of the eye. I’m curious to explore our paradoxical relationship to these patriarchal images of beauty and desire, at once seduced and repulsed.” This statement reveals the debt she owes to the Cubist style and to the artists of that movement, some of whom disparaged women. It also reflects her ability to explore the significance and vicissitudes of her upbringing and entire life, to transform her memories, dreams, frustrations and fears into powerful works of art that speak to people of all genders and backgrounds.
Jungian analyst Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., wrote in the book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” © 1992, “Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of thought, feeling and action, and reaction and to put these together in a unique response, expression or message that carries moment, passion and meaning…Focusing is the use of all of our senses, including intuition. It is from this world that women come to claim their own voices, their own values, their imaginations, their clairvoyance, their stories, and the ancient memories of women.”
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