STEVEN CAMPBELL FEATURE
Hailed by many as the best of the new Glasgow Boys, STEVEN CAMPBELL is back this month with his ﬁrst solo show for three years. Beatrice Colin talked to him about three new inﬂuences in his life and work - St. Sebastian, Pinocchio and Quentin Tarantino.
photograph by DAVID HARROLD
Pinocchio, he’s a liar, he’s the King of the show. I wanted to he as true to my
own emotions as I
could be but I wanted to say that inside this world of
is painting, the liar
is the one who tells the truth.’
teven Campbell didn’t
appear to be at the
opening of his new
exhibition. At least not
the Steven Campbell
whose self-portrait crops up in his paintings, swathed in Highland bard gear with long red hair and sharp little goatee beard. or who once posed as the Victorian sage Ruskin beside a waterfall.
There is a man with short blond Spock-style hair, a pair of shades, a black 603 suit and a black tie. Could it be Mr Orange, Mr Pink or even. Mr, oh no, Blue?
‘Have you seen Reservoir Dogs,’ enthuses Campbell in his rich Glaswegian accent, for it is he. ‘1 saw it last week and it’s brilliant. I went straight out and bought this suit from a second-hand shop. The thing I like about it is, it’s a really clever study of the metaphysics of violence. That’s why it’s been so successful in Glasgow, because things like that happen all the time.’
With a brand new image, new exhibition, a new book on his career so far and new slant on life, Campbell is a blur of black, white and bubbles. Sipping champagne, he sits on the edge of his seat as if he too has just pulled off a heist. But is he the mole or the mob?
Campbell’s first solo show was held in New York in 1983. He went on to become one of the most successful of the New Glasgow Boys and his last show On Form And Fiction at the Third Eye Centre in 1990, attracted both great acclaim and some puzzlement.
‘1 did it as a shallow manipulation of the museum space,’ he says. ‘When the lights went down, like the cinema, 1 really believed in it, which was funny and it surprised me. But it also disappointed me because it was just too smart-arsed.
‘What I was trying to do was a cinematic in appearance dissertation on painting. Painting is only manipulation, and if you have a knowledge of painting, you can manipulate. There are a lot of painters around now who lie every day but think they’re telling the truth. But in that show I tried to say
a. “,1 a;
I. 9"?) r,
Pinocchio In Exile, Alon (detail) 1992
painting is lies and if you have the ability to manipulate then you can tell lies in a good sort of a way.’
HIS NEW SHOW Pinocchio ’3 Present is a heady mixture of dark, sombre paintings, and almost perversely brightly-coloured string and mixed- media collages. The exhibition will certainly surprise some purists, yet it feels more personal and less esoteric than his last one.
‘I went to string from despair, because after the show in the Third Eye Centre I couldn’t paint any more and I wanted to destroy myself completely,’ he says. ‘I wanted to destroy any idea of technique and career, so I did all these things with string because after that show the misery was incredible; it just didn’t work. There was a lot of awful stuff happening in my life — my brother died and I got sued, and I remember coming back from my brother’s funeral and there was a letter from a court in New York saying they were going to sue me for everything that I had and more. I don’t think you can believe in anything
after that, and painting irrelevant anyway.’
‘It took me three or four weeks to do each string picture. Every morning I used to get up, just stick the string on so I didn’t have to think about anything. The images that came out were regenerative I think. They weren’t really planned, so the things that came out maybe led me on to start believing in the possibility of doing something in painting.’
The paintings suggest narratives and are filled with images of death and despair. A motorbike accident, a cocktail party for the dead, Pinocchio in chains and St Sebastian.
‘I did St Sebastian because it’s the same as the wonderful glorification of violence of Reservoir Dogs. St Sebastian doesn’t wear violent clothes, his clothes are his violence. What happens to him and also his narcissism reflects the violence which is happening now, so I had him in because it’s how the times feel.’
So how important is violence in his work? ‘Some of the things that happen are violent, but it’s just acting out things, everyday fears to an attempted epic scale, it’s small things written large. There is a vulnerability in the work, because being an artist is quite a difficult life, you worry about things, you know? The work is fake and real at the same time, that’s the theme that runs through the whole show, trying to be false and genuine at the same time.’
Both agonisingly personal and wilfully bizarre, Campbell juxtaposes bunny rabbits with bullﬁghts and paints the drowned having a beachside picnic. Yet the character of Pinocchio may be the key to his psyche.
‘Pinocchio, he’s a liar, he’s the King of the show,’ he enthuses. ‘l wanted to be as true to my own emotions as I could be but I wanted to say that inside this world of manipulation, which is painting, the liar is the one who tells the truth.’
Pinocchio ’3 Present is at the Talbot Rice Gallery, University of
Edinburgh, until 11 Sept.
The Paintings of Steven Campbell:
The Story so Far by Duncan
MacMillan is published by l Mainstream (£14. 99 hardback; £9. 99 J
The List 20—26 August 199317