ZINC contemporary, one of the most beloved art galleries in Seattle is running a major solo exhibition of new work featuring artist Rachel Campbell. “What Are You Looking For?” frames Campbell’s exploration of memory and nostalgia, most notably in the American South; working intuitively with the juxtaposition of light and shadow, abstraction and realism, and memories that are at once glum and humorous. The exhibit runs through December 14.
We spoke to Campbell to know about her fascinating life as an artist and her newest body of work…
Seattleite: What was your childhood like and how did you develop an interest in art?
Rachel Campbell: I grew up the youngest child by a large margin, in a blue-collar family affected by the disease of alcoholism. It was often scary, and a “filled with fear” kind of childhood. There were very little jollies. I was almost always alone and just escaped into a world of creativity. It was my salvation at the time. I was always out making a mess, or writing plays, or drawing or playing with animals. I was quite free. Creativity was my self- soothing and special time. So I have always been an artist. I never stopped, driving my mother mad with my mess—my constant use of sellotape, cardboard, mud, basically, anything I could get my hands on.
Seattleite: Can you tell us about the exhibit?
RC: I am a visual storyteller. Laura Zeck, the owner of Zinc contemporary, has selected work from the last few years, not from my whole career. It comes from different bodies of work that I have been engaged with during this time, so there is an interesting diversity to the works.
There are pieces from a recently commissioned show called Sweet, about the place of sugar in different cultures. There are some trailer park and suburban landscapes from my current home state of North Carolina where I explore the beauty and story I find in overlooked places. There are interiors spaces that describe the people who inhabit them—the environment as a portrait.
But although there is a diversity of work, there are recurring themes in the works that tie them together: stories of connection, memory, and nostalgia, and paintings of the ordinary things of life finding the moments of beauty and humor that reside there.
Seattleite: What was the thought behind the title ‘What are you Looking For?’
RC: The title operates on two levels. On one level, I am influenced by the painter David Hockney who is convinced that all art starts with looking. Observation, viewing, and drawing, is the beginning of the process. And observations of ordinary moments and stories are critical to a lot of my work. Everything I paint involves a moment of looking.
But the title, on a deeper level, also challenges the viewer. My art expresses the things that I take to be most important in life—beauty found in everyday life, humor, play, and connection. It is an invitation to these. This is what I am looking for, and since I have often found it, my paintings express a certain gratitude. But what are you looking for? Is it that what I have found is rich and meaningful for me. What is it for you?
Seattleite: What kind of materials did you use and how long did it take?
RC: All my work is oil on canvas or on linen. Sometimes there is acrylic under-painting. I can’t say how long a painting might take. I sometimes come back to work a painting over and over again over several months.
Seattleite: What is your design process like?
RC: I often make drawings about a place. In difficult places like trailer parks, I have to take a series of photographs and create a composition back at my studio from them. I then draw directly on the canvas with charcoal. I often use acrylic under-painting to block in the plan and to be able to make adjustments. This also means that I am able to get a different color ground under the painting. I will mix up a palette sample of colors based on three main colors and try really hard to stay in that range.
I’m trying to tell the story through my choice of palette, capturing the temperature and mood I felt. I’m always trying to make the paint sing, getting the colors to work off each other and to make interesting combinations. I like to employ different applications and thicknesses of paint, moving from strong gestural washes down into more graphic renderings. This draws the eye to the details that interest me. I am currently living in Scotland UK for the year. So this year the work is inspired by my life here—by all the new discoveries I am making and my response to the landscape and experiences of Scotland!
ZINC contemporary | 119 Prefontaine Place S., Seattle | (206) 617-5775