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Robert Campbell (1944-1993)
Robert Campbell Jnr was one of the first generation of urban
aboriginal artists, and perhaps the finest. He stood between Aboriginal
Culture and modern Australian culture and drew on both to create
art of extraordinary freshness, courage and wit.
Campbell was born in 1944 in Kempsey, a small town in northern
New South Wales. His family belonged to the Ngaku people but the
traditions of their ancestors were dying rapidly in the face of
white rule and culture. The old people were not even allowed to
talk the lingo or teach the old stories. Nevertheless
there was still some continuity of life. Robert Campbells
father, Thomas W. Campbell, was a noted boomerang-maker and would
take his son off into the bush searching for suitable cuts of
kangaroos, birds and other animals, which the father would then
trace on to the boomerangs surface with a red-hot wire.
Leaving school at 14, Campbell continued to develop his gift.
Using gloss paint and cardboard he began to express his bold,
naïve visions of the local landscape, and even to sell them
to passing tourists. He worked for a time in a series of menial
jobs, as a factory-hand in Sydney, as a pea-picker; work as he
put it, that was not good enough for white people.
But he eventually returned to Kempsey and to painting, starting
to use canvas and artists board for his works for the first
time. He began to record with sparkling vividness the scenes that
he saw about him or that he remembered from his childhood years
the use of colour and cartoon-like simplicity came to symbolise
his work. Yet the mind of Campbell was anything but childlike.
He brought a new edge to aboriginal art, using the medium to express
strongly felt beliefs and visions of reality, while still remaining
firmly within the traditional themes of the Dreamtime
of the native Australian people.
I Paint he once said, about things that touch
me personally, whatever has happened to me personally. And
this sense of personal experience that gives his paintings a power
unsullied by either sentimentality or sloganeering. There are
arcadian scenes of camp life, of food-gathering and unspoilt nature.
And there are frank representations of the darker side of 20th
Century Aboriginal life, of alcoholism, of police brutality and
racism. One marvelous painting, Roped Off at the Pictures II,
depicts the perfunctory segregation practiced in the old Australian
cinemas, with Aborigines separated from the rest of the audience
by a rope.
A series of exhibitions of his work in the late Eighties, both
in Sydney and Melbourne, brought him the beginnings of the critical
recognition he deserved. International acclaim has followed with
major exhibitions in London and Geneva.
Campbell has become an icon to particularly young urban aboriginal
artists, as well as spending an enormous amount of time developing
the talents of young Aboriginal artists in his hometown of Kempsey.
His place in the evolution of Aboriginal art is assured.
From an article by
Rebecca Hossack Galleries, London.
Article appeared in The Independent newspaper, London 17/07/1993
Links to other artwork by Robert Campbell
With every puzzle depicting Robert Campbell's art you will
receive a glossy A4 size (295mm x 210mm) picture of the completed
puzzle, a beautifully presented and well researched 24 page storybook
that outlines the artist's life work, and provides an explanation
to the overall themes and issues of the artwork, it's genre, and
the reflections of the world as seen by the artist. Click here
to see a photo of a sample puzzle showing everything that comes
with the puzzle in the bag.
Contents of "Australian Emblem"