In an arts community increasingly driven by the financial necessities of making a living and paying gallery overhead costs, it is refreshing to find artists willing to take risks with their work.
Throughout her career, Rebecca Campbell has remained constant in her belief that art should elicit thoughtful dialogue rather than purely economic and aesthetic satisfaction.
“My artwork is not intended for the corporate lobby or permanent collection, it asks to be touched, used or blessed,” Campbell explains.
True to her nature, Campbell has once again reached into new territory to create Boy Crazy, the current exhibit at the Salt Lake City Library’s Atrium Gallery.
Campbell’s emergence onto Salt Lake’s art scene was completed with last year’s innovative installation Pink at the Cordell Taylor Gallery. Through elements such as fashion, dance and media, Pink explored the sexually charged views about women in contemporary society.
With her new exhibit Boy Crazy, Campbell turns her insightful gaze toward the male figure. Boy Crazy explores the archetypes and stereotypes of men in contemporary society and captures those characteristics that define a cross-section of today’s male population.
The integration of diverse media in Boy Crazy reveals Campbell’s distinctive approach to art. Throughout the exhibit, small and intricate mixed-media combinations are juxtaposed against large, boldly painted canvases. These large paintings immediately capture the viewer’s attention. Each of her canvases examines an individual sitter, yet clearly defies classification as standard portraiture.
Campbell’s images clearly highlight stereotypical characteristics of distinct types of men. Through these stereotypes, she illuminates society’s perception of the men. These paintings also bring to the surface those idiosyncratic mannerisms and styles to which she is ultimately attracted as a woman.
This fragmentary, revealing, yet admiring view of men is seen in works such as Campbell’s “Dr.” This large painting displays the most highly developed and classically defined stereotypes of all her works. “Dr.” presents a sharply cropped view of a well-dressed gentleman who sits, legs tightly crossed in a rich red chair.
The starkness of the doctor’s black jacket and crisply pressed gray trousers, accented by the perfectly polished shoes, creates a pervasive sense of calm and order throughout the work.
Each line and gesture within the painting leads the viewer’s eye to the doctor’s hands, which gently and perhaps absentmindedly play with his glasses.
The greatness of the man is accented by the low perspective given to the viewer; the control and composure of the doctor is contrasted with the clashing colors of the pale green carpet and the deep red of the chair. Every detail has been carefully selected by Campbell to give “Dr.” a sense of ordered and stately contemplation.
In every way that Campbell’s “Dr.” is proper and tidy, her “Boy” is unruly and unkempt. From a steep overhead perspective, the viewer looks down upon a young man who slouches disinterestedly across a red chair.
Here the stereotypes reach into the clothing, posture and attitude of today’s youth. Characteristically, the boy wears a baseball cap that has been turned backward, dark T-shirt, baggy gray athletic pants and black and white basketball shoes.
Where the doctor’s neatly pressed pants expressed discipline, the agitated, aggressively painted pants of this boy express energy and movement. It is as if the teenager can hardly restrain himself to remain put in this chair. Campbell’s view of this youth is unflattering, yet maintains an admiration for the energy and rebelliousness of young men.
Perhaps the most beautifully painted, yet perplexing image within Boy Crazy is “Player.” Here a young African-American male is seen from the chest down, standing squarely, facing the viewer. The figure wears only blue jeans that hang loosely around his hips revealing a bright white band of underwear.
On the figure’s hip rests the ever-present fashion accessory—the pager; in front of his torso the figure holds a phallic bottle of alcohol. Much like Campbell’s “Boy,” the images within “Player” are taken from the stereotypical attire and attitudes of today’s urban youth.
There is a sense of confidence and strength in the frontal, yet casual stance of the figure and the musculature of his torso and arms. Campbell pays homage to the elements she finds attractive with her lush painting style, large scale, and rich and exciting use of color.
While “Player” is an obvious tribute to the beauty of the man and the attractiveness of these particular characteristics, it is perplexing that these attributes would be singled out as stereotypical of African-Americans.
The sexually charged image of “Player” with its clear references to gang attire, while stimulating to many, continues a pattern of placing socially constructed stereotypes on African-American men.
Here, one is caught in Rebecca Campbell’s skillfully created dialogue between that which is clearly beautiful and that which unfairly categorizes segments of our population.
Pondering the dichotomy of this perception, one realizes this juxtaposition is at work in all of Rebecca Campbell’s paintings. Each work balances precariously between a celebration of characteristics that make males attractive and stereotypes that label and unjustly define who they are.
Boy Crazy is an intelligent and thought-provoking exhibit. The viewer is drawn into dialogue through the intriguing subject matter and lush technique, and through the innovative, intricate assemblages.
Each work begs the viewer to contemplate and reflect. Boy Crazy proves that it pays to take the risks inherent in self-examination and explore new and diverse territories.
Rebecca Campbell’s Boy Crazy will hang at the Salt Lake City Library through June 26.