THE figure of Steven Campbell, the brilliantly talented maverick Glasgow painter, still looms large over art in Scotland some eight years after his untimely death in 2007 at the age of 54. He was visually voracious, intellectually and emotionally restless. If he could not always live up to the demands that his talent made upon him, he long outgrew his public caricature as a “New Glasgow Boy” drawing on a far deeper well of ability, curiosity and inventiveness than many of his peers..
Last year Generation, the mammoth survey of contemporary art in Scotland that took place in more than 60 venues across the country, took Campbell’s 1990 exhibition at the Third Eye Centre, entitled On Form and Fiction, as one of its starting points. In a single grand room at the National Gallery of Scotland the curators sought to recreate the show from works that had been long forgotten in storage in his London gallery for over two decades.
There were lots of ways to look at the move: one might have seen it as a brilliant reclamation of Campbell’s art for a new generation or as a slightly overwhelming patriarchal presence from an earlier era. Above all it was simply hard to resist as the work was a tour de force in its own right.
I found in the weeks of Generation that On Form and Fiction was above all an actual place of discussion and debate. Campbell’s original installation had included benches borrowed from Kelvingrove Art Gallery. Last year I spent a number of hours chatting on those benches in that room on The Mound, with artists recalling Campbell himself and fierce debates around the role of painting itself and the wider role of the artist.
At the time, On Form and Fiction had been a kind of provocation from Campbell to a younger, emerging generation of Scottish artists and many of them had visited the show armed to the teeth with hostility, neo-conceptual ideas and bags of theory. Instead many found themselves disarmed, some by the strength of the work, some by the artist’s combative energy. By 2014 those artists were senior figures coming to terms with their own histories.
It’s in this spirit that recent graduate Rosie Roberts has created On Fun + Friction, a small, but vibrant painting exhibition as a memorial to Campbell at SWG3, the studio warehouse that forms a mini-epicentre of Glasgow’s art, music and design cultures on the shoulder of railway arches and the roar of the Broomielaw.
Where Campbell’s exhibition was soundtracked by the breathy vocals of Jane Birkin moaning Je t’aime, Roberts has piped the somewhat hellish soundtrack of Radio 5 Live into the space. And where Campbell afforded his viewers a seat, you’ll need to stay on your feet.
The show is modest in scale, but lively in intent. It features artists like Brian Cheeswright, Alexandra Leach and Rachel Jones for whom painting is a compulsive form of making, of daily self-reflexive practice rather than a staged encounter with art history.
Roberts has been supported by the Steven Campbell Trust and benefits from the loan of a lovely work from the original show itself – Crash Cubism (the Neoclassical Period) which incorporates some key Campbell motifs including classical artefacts, fragmented body parts and a runaway train.
Whether the strongest of these artists view painting as the ideological battlefield that Roberts perceives is a moot point.
Jacob Kerray’s work is a form of history painting, which melds pop, posters and portraiture, the essence of fan culture. Caribbean Sunshine Boys is a portrait of sorts of the wrestlers David Bond and Johnny Kincaid crafted from, as Kerray puts it, “oil on canvas, potential banana skins”.
Owen Piper’s art is a delightfully personal encounter with the travails of the studio, drawing on the ebb and flow of internet imagery and the incidentals of domestic life. His witty Tree and Bush is an insouciant gesture of studied mark-making and photocopier magic. Both artists have a sense of painting as both necessary and faintly absurd.
On Fun + Friction takes as its totem the humble cabbage. It spins overhead like a glum Scottish disco ball as part of Alex Millar’s sculptural installation Ra on My Back. Campbell’s painted alter egos Hunt and Von Helsing often found themselves stumbling around the cabbage patch, or to be more accurate the kailyard, trying to find out if there was a way for his art to be both international and Scottish in inheritance, both philosophically clever and emphatically down to earth.
While this likeable but slightly haphazard wee show doesn’t quite find its way out of the kitchen garden, it has some pleasures on the way.
Until 29 August