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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 Campbell’s 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 boomerang’s 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 artist’s 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
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"


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