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Art Review: Rebecca Campbell 'Romancing the Apocalypse' at L.A. Louver [Updated]

April 8, 2011 | 12:00 pm

Rebecca Campbell’s new paintings are looser and juicier and far more beautiful than anything she has made since she began exhibiting her haunting works in Los Angeles 10 years ago. They’re also stranger and scarier than anything else being made today — despite, and because of, their generally benign subjects: pretty girls, gorgeous rainbows and sublime fireworks.

Campbell Romancing the Apocalypse
Titled “Romancing the Apocalypse,” Campbell’s smoldering show at L.A. Louver turns melodrama into a whiplash-inducing collision with pleasures whose intensity is driven to a feverish pitch because they are fleeting — there for the moment and then gone forever.

Rather than illustrating this Romantic idea in over-dramatized images of fateful events, Campbell boils it down to the basics: the way she lays paint down on canvas, with just the right mix of bull’s-eye precision and forget-it abandon.

Whether painting rainbows, fireworks or mushroom clouds, the real drama is played out in Campbell’s brushstrokes. Emotionally loaded stories unfold as the brush’s bristles are dragged this way and that. Single strokes often start out as gooey gobs of inchoate matter before quickly segueing into deliberate gestures, only to dissipate into messy meltdowns of mixed tints, flattened volumes, lost textures and, ultimately, bare-canvas emptiness. Whistler’s jaw-dropping nocturnes come to mind but do not overshadow the freewheeling fluidity and existential weight of Campbell’s drop-dead paint handling. Campbell Epidemic

Her pictures of girls and women, all lost in thought and more or less oblivious to their surroundings, add sexual tension to the proceedings. Innocence and vulnerability take fleshy form as Campbell manages to make regret and contentment palpable.

All but two of her paintings are small, no bigger than 12-by-20-inches. Their size is belied by their visual power, which packs a wallop and doesn’t stop.

Her 7-by-5-foot “Epidemic” and 4-by-8-foot “Romancing the Apocalypse” are show-stopping knockouts. Each depicts a solitary woman in an unsettling scenario and gives Campbell ample space to strut her painterly stuff. You feel the drama of her works in your gut, where the conflict between holding everything together and just letting go matters most.

-- David Pagel

(L.A. Louver, 45 N. Venice Blvd., Venice (310) 822-4955, through April 16. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.lalouver.com)

Images: Top, Rebecca Campbell, "Romancing the Apocalypse"; bottom, "Epidemic." Credit for both: L.A. Louver.

Updated 11:45 a.m. Wednesday: Responding to comments from Culture Monster readers, David Pagel writes:

My review of Rebecca Campbell's show was positive because I felt that the show was strong. I have never met or spoken with Campbell. She does currently have a temporary, part-time position at Claremont Graduate University, where I am chair of the art department. I did not hire her. Artists with such positions are chosen by the graduate students and hired by the university administration. They meet with students one day a week over their one-year terms. Her term ends in May.


 
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David Pagel has once again picked a minor artist to celebrate. I haven't seen a painting show as bad Mrs. Campbell's resent show since her last outing in Los Angeles. Mrs. Campbell paints like an illustrator with absolutely no sensitivity for her chosen medium. As well her work is conceptually bankrupt and historically flimsy. From where I'm standing Mrs.Campbell does nothing but traffic in clichés, which I understand is a very popular way of working for the hordes of MFA drones being pumped out by the grad schools. I only wish that we had real criticism in L.A. so that work like this could be taken apart by a real critic because in the end Mrs. Campbell's work is easy art for lazy people.

I always find the biggest cliché to be the people like Forrest Truman who uses "paints like an illustrator" as some kind of deluded catchall put down. Most illustrators have far better skill sets than the limited idea based ambition of most fine artists. 90% of fine artists would be hard pressed to get illustration work outside of free work for alternative news papers.
Of course people who can’t draw or paint well tactically buy into this tired old defensive posture of fifty years past simply because they can’t draw either. If you can’t see the value of skill, you may as well hang out at construction sites and tremble with ecstasy at piles of lumber for their lack of artifice in their purity of random placement.

The honest truth here is the artist in question needs to up her skill set as a painter if she for to work as a serious representational artiast. I applaud her for loosening up from her easy to do photo real rendering approach, but it looks like she skipped the part where she truly learns to technically paint well, jumping from rendering to a painterly approach without (years of) a truly grounded skill set. Breezing past the fundamentals may keep her Fine art credentials in order, but won’t help her become a great painter.

I dont find her bad at tall, but defintely still limited and hopefuly growing. She has from her earlier work, but still a very limited color pallette and tied to localized color. She hasnt yet achieved the musicality and poetry of Williams work, which is far more mature. And your absurd corollary, Whistler's Nocturnes. I have actually used that line for Williams work, and she is best in the smaller studies, which are not yet fully developed paintings.

The larger works are still seperate in components, and not integrated in overall intense relationships that lead to strong emotional states. I dont know what she wants to bring out in the viewer. I dont feel it strongly, except in making cool stuff, but do like there is something there. Few painters get it before their 40s, she may well be on that path.

In our day of instant gratification the odds are against her. But then, they are for all true creative artists. Good luck, color, color, color. There you will find freedom and responsibility to common passion, follow that yellow brick road. While this may stand out in our drab and over thoughtout but under intelligent artscene, seek harmony and rhythm. It is still too reliant on simple melody alone, one that can only go further with integrated growth. She isnt too calcified like the wannabes of the Academys are taught for presentation and becoming a signature for investment and commodification.

A little more knowledge of the past, and study of Bonnard and Degas for bath tub scenes can only help and free her up. Build on what has been done, nothing comes from nothing, having Diebenkorn as a artistic father cant hurt. After all, Matisse and Picasso both acknowledged Cezanne as their creative father, a little humility and respect goes a long way. Not exactly accepted traits in our day of hubris and limiting academic dogmas. Live.

Save the spiritual and creative Watts Towers(OUR Town, Nuestro Pueblo), tear down the drab and souless Ivories.

In "Romancing the Apocalypse" the most intriguing and explosive aspect of the painting is outside the window...if only Ms. Campbell had made it the "centrality" of her painting,rather than just a glimpse...it would have been truly "apocalyptic"!...there be dragons...and greatness! However, it seems totally undermined by the "kitschy" "girl with the cake in the tub" scenario down below.If Ms. Campbell had only been brave and bold enough to really romance the apocalypse, rather than subdue the banal.Let's hope next time she just paints the apocalypse, and leaves the romancing to Hollywood and Las Vegas.

David Pagel responds: My review of Rebecca Campbell's show was positive because I felt that the show was strong. I have never met or spoken with Campbell. She does currently have a temporary, part-time position at Claremont Graduate University, where I am chair of the art department. I did not hire her. Artists with such positions are chosen by the graduate students and hired by the university administration. They meet with students one day a week over their one-year terms. Her term ends in May.

Its called damage control. Why not man-up and repost those who questioned your affiliation? So what if you have spoken with the artist or not? You are the head of the dept at Claremont where she is teaching . Scariest paintings out there? You are joking right?Beyond belief. If anything Mr. Pagel this review underscores your lack of understanding when it comes to the language of painting. I looked at this work -online today with a major American curator, who felt the work was as insipid, poorly done and just plain stupid (did I mention ham-fisted, cloying and saccharine) as I do. And also felt your review was beyond the pale. Why don't you post this?


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