Art Review: Love

An exhibition of Steven Campbell’s work at the Tramway.

Tramway is currently exhibiting twelve mixed media collages by the famous Glaswegian artist Steven Campbell. Beginning in 1987, the works belong to a period of personal reflection after Campbell moved back to Scotland after a five year stay in New York. We can appreciate how his usually swift creative process was substituted by a more challenging weeks-long concentration on each work. The works are also part of an experimental phase in which Campbell used the collage technique as a means to push himself further than the predictable outcomes that painting offered him.

It is only by observing the collages in person that one can appreciate the beautiful results of this unique creative period. The dream-like scenes of each collage are too complex to be cast under the simple “Love” title of the exhibition. The strands of hand-painted string laboriously attached to many of the collages demonstrate the ability to create in large dimensions with unusual materials. We see waterfalls, butterflies and a voluminous cat brought to life by the sinuous movement of the strings that create them. The colours are also magnificent, with the large windows and white walls of the space allowing a full appreciation.

With these works Campbell also showcases his ability to play with material and expected meanings. For example, at first glance we see a solid-looking rock painted on the corner of a collage. A closer, more attentive observation reveals that the rock is in fact made of feathers, making us reassess its predicted solidity. The influence on Campbell from the short-lived GSA Mixed Media department are reflected in works like this.

I was especially struck by a hunting scene where the hunter’s bright eyes – made with cut out yellow paper – pierced through the canvas while staring at a woman’s dead body. The colour connections between the pink blood of the woman and the pink face of the hunter stand out from a complex background of blue animals made of string. This mastery of composition and fluid narrative between the figures will be hard to forget.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, some artworks presented the more awkward results of this period of experimentation. Two unnecessarily large collages made with Matisse-like coloured paper cutouts sit at the centre of the room, looking unfinished and less expressive than the beautiful creations that surround them. Despite these latter examples, I still highly recommend the exhibition.


[Natalia Fernandez Ashman – @natferash]

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