‘Cressida Campbell’ colours the everyday

‘Truth, heart and skill is what usually makes something great.’ – Cressida Campbell

Until 19 February 2023, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) in Canberra invites audiences to join them in celebrating four decades of extraordinary work by Cressida Campbell in this retrospective exhibition curated by Dr Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax, Curator, Australian Prints and Drawings, National Gallery of Australia.

Cressida Campbell, Eucalypt forest, 2000, Private collection, image courtesy Warren Macris © Cressida Campbell

The exhibition of more than 140 works charts the development of Campbell’s painting and printmaking practice and highlights the unique qualities of her oeuvre. She illustrates the minutiae of the everyday in beautifully rendered woodcut prints and woodblock paintings.

Inspired by her surroundings, natural and built, and both the ordinary and collected objects that populate interior and anterior spaces, Campbell expresses the splendour and magnificence that exists in the everyday. ‘My main inspiration comes from what is directly around me… I remember combinations of colours I see in houses, pictures, gardens, buildings or sculptures here and round the world,’ she says.

‘Degas said, ‘Never paint anything you don’t love’, which I thought was an interesting and fascinating tip. It doesn’t have to be beautiful in any way, but it has to be something that you love to examine.’

Cressida Campbell, Nasturtiums, 2002, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gift of Margaret Olley 2006, image courtesy the Art Gallery of New South Wales © Cressida Campbell

In Campbell’s still life paintings, we see the delicate flowers of blood orange and golden yellow nasturtiums their spindly watercress-like stems shooting upwards or spilling over the rims of glassware and decorative bowls; a plastic ice cream container filled with colourful scraps destined for the compost eludes the decay of time; pretty seashells, starfish and pieces of coral hold childhood memories of the artist’s explorative adventures to the seaside with her mother.

‘Growing up I visited the famous shell shop at The Rocks in Sydney. When you entered it was like walking under the sea. Mum and I would go and buy the odd shell. She would secretly wedge some of them in rockpools up at Pearl Beach, where we holidayed once a year. Then she would say, ‘I think I saw something glinting in that pool,’ and suddenly I would find an empty dark-brown and cream spotted cone shell. On later examining the shell book I would find that the shell came from New Guinea and was terribly poisonous. When I wondered how it came to be at Pearl Beach, she would casually say, ‘Oh darling, remember that huge storm we had last week.’

Cressida Campbell, Bedroom nocturne, 2022, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra purchased with the assistance of the Gordon Darling Australia Pacific Print Fund in celebration of the National Gallery of Australia’s anniversary, 2022 © Cressida Campbell

Of the many highlights in this show is a series of Tondo paintings that bring an entirely new dimension to a painting, and in this instance Campbell’s interior compositions. Bedroom nocturne (2022), which has recently been acquired into the NGA’s collection is a one of the artist’s more intimate works that takes viewers into the private space she shares with her husband. She explains that she began working with circular works in 2018. ‘I find the format of a circle interesting compositionally. Also, a voyeuristic tension is created when you look through a circle at an interior, or any subject—it is different from looking through a square or rectangle. Interestingly the straight lines play a more important part than organic lines when they’re cutting a circular shape.’

Cressida Campbell is one of the artists included in the gallery’s ‘Know My Name’ initiative, a gender equity program committed to recognising women artists and the contributions they make to art in Australia.

An audio tour of ‘Cressida Campbell’ the exhibition is available to visitors at the gallery and an exhibition catalogue featuring full colour reproductions of the artist’s works and a compilation of insightful written works by curators, artists, poets and other voices sharing their knowledge and reflections on Campbell’s practice can be purchased through the gallery.

The National Gallery of Australia is located in Canberra’s Parliamentary Triangle near Lake Burley Griffin and is open from 10am to 5pm daily.