Tributes flood in from art world after 'New Glasgow Boy' dies at 54

STEVEN Campbell, one of the finest Scottish painters of the last century, has died.

The artist, who was 54, had been enjoying a prolific period in recent years, and was working on a major show for Glasgow School of Art. He suffered a ruptured appendix a month ago and developed septicaemia. He died on Wednesday after four weeks in intensive care.

Campbell's wife, Carol, said: "He approached the end of his life with such courage and such dignity. He fought to the end to stay with us." The Campbells have three children, Lauren, 23, Greer, 20, and Rory, 19, and one grandchild, Nathan, three.

"We will remember him primarily as a husband, father and grandfather. His wee grandson absolutely adored him."

Campbell styled himself flamboyantly after the great masters of the 19th century. Mrs Campbell said: "He was like a 19th-century artist, like all the greats he loved. He believed, like them, that if you truly dedicate your life to art, and give it every ounce of your being, you will make a difference."

The family is planning a funeral fit for a man who loved style. "It's not going to be a celebration of his life because he's bigger than that. It's going to be a big Victorian gothic funeral, everyone will wear black and the coffin will be covered with white lilies. He loved all that."

Meanwhile, tributes to Campbell were flooding in. Jim Tough, acting chief executive of the Scottish Arts Council, said: "Steven Campbell was a remarkable artist who contributed greatly to Scotland's international standing as a centre of excellence for the visual arts.

"Steven had extraordinary depths of imagination and expression and his work constantly surprised and inspired people. Scotland has lost a rare and special talent."

John McKechnie, the director of Glasgow Print Studio, where he had his last solo Scottish show in 2004, said: "He'll be shown up to be one of the greatest painters that we've had in Scotland in the last century. I think he suffered a bit when Brit Art and the great wave of conceptual art came in. He deserved to be on a bigger stage than he was."

He predicted that demand for Campbell's pictures would rocket. "I think there will be a rush of people trying to buy his pictures. People will realise, now it's too late, what a fantastic painter he was.

"He had an amazing exhibition with us in 2004 and made four new prints. He was great throughout the exhibition, he even came in and did talks for schoolchildren. He was very proud of his little grandson."

Campbell's influence on the next generation of artists was confirmed during 2005's Glasgow International Festival of Visual Art in an exhibition at Glasgow School of Art titled Campbell's Soup, bringing together artists inspired by his ideas. He was working on a solo show for GSA which was due to open in August 2008, 30 years after he arrived as a student.

Neil Mulholland, the curator of Campbell's Soup and director of the Centre for Visual and Cultural Studies at Edinburgh College of Art, said: "Although he would hate anyone saying so, he was easily the iconic Scottish artist of his generation, and inspired many working-class Scots to follow his example.

"I love the way Steven's personality and work merged - his idiosyncratic mind, his unique mixture of charisma and humility, his flamboyant style and great sense of humour can't be separated from his work."

The painter Adrian Wisniewski studied with him in the late 1970s. Both were in the group of artists known as the New Glasgow Boys, establishing a bold new figurative style in Scotland in the 1980s.

"He arrived with great energy, great vim, ready to take on the world. He was a tour de force at art school. I shared a studio with him and we worked on lots of projects together, it was very good, very experimental. He was an encouragement to all of us.

"Scotland was looking for some sort of identity and Steven helped give that identity some visual expression," Wisniewski said. "The public was ready for someone like Steven, it was the right thing at the right time. He's got his place art history and it's a deserved one."

• STEVEN Campbell grew up in Rutherglen and followed his father into a job at the local steelworks. He was 25 when he arrived at Glasgow School of Art, where he quickly marked himself out as a huge - if mercurial - talent. On graduating, he won a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship and spent four years living in New York.

On his return, he became one of the New Glasgow Boys, with Peter Howson, Ken Currie, Stephen Conroy and Adrian Wisniewski - a new generation of bold, young figurative painters, producing work on a heroic scale often taking their subject matter from working class Scotland.

In the early 1990s, Campbell retreated into seculsion amid rumours of health problems. But he continued to paint, and emerged triumphant after almost a decade, winning a Creative Scotland Award and staging shows at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Edinburgh University's Talbot Rice Gallery. Fellow artist Adrian Wisniewski, said: "Steven was a romantic. He dressed as a romantic and did his best to live as a romantic. He saw himself as a hero, and he painted on a heroic scale. I know he'd had some difficult times, but he was back on form. That's what makes this doubly sad."