Absence and Presence press release

New Talent in Oil painting

On Saturday 14th January an exhibition is opening at Brantwood in Coniston from an artist whose reputation is rapidly gathering momentum: Stephen Maxwell Campbell.  Paintings from this artist have been snatched up by collectors from all over Europe, the US and China; he has been commissioned by various institutions and has painted for Damien Hirst.  His recent press coverage which includes the LA times has attracted attention from all kinds of people, but Stephen keeps his down to earth, paint-on-the-street approach and belief that art isn’t just for people with disposable fortunes to enjoy.


Manchester born artist Stephen M Campbell returns to Coniston with an exhibition of paintings inspired by absence and presence.  Stephen’s approach to the idea of landscape painting is very different from that which is most commonly seen in the Lake District.  Using oil paint made by hand and environmentally friendly, he soaks up the light and the feeling of a location.  The subtle studies of sunlight falling through woodland are a sensitive riot of nacreous colour and crystallised light, sometimes joyful and sometimes mournful.  The simple and honest observational paintings around Cumbria, cover wider angles than other painters are capable of without the use of specialised photography, they capture the essence of a location, even the temperature, they include the banal; daily life, pubs and shops, as well as the raw landscapes in a simple and honest interpretation.

The winter of 2010 to 2011 Stephen spent working in a studio improvised from a cow shed in Coniston.  With no electricity, running water, or contact with the outside world it was like an alchemist’s laboratory – painting during the day and experimenting with natural materials and making paints by candlelight in the evening.  A great deal of time has been spent studying the traditional and early developments of paint, as well as the recent advancements in chemistry which lead to creating new permanent colours, or interactions with different lights, giving Stephen the freedom to create works which can appear aged now or still fresh hundreds of years from now.  It is the permanence of paint which is the attraction for the artist, there being no need for machinery which could be obsolete in a few years, or for the work to be seen in a gallery to be understood.

The use of colour in these paintings is very exciting, bold masculine brush strokes of bright cadmiums sit alongside complicated constructions of glazes.  It is in this careful composition of materials that show the influence from contemporary classical music, using different kinds of paint like timbres and combinations of colour like a major or a minor key.  But the most important element in these paintings isn’t the composition or colour, but the magic.  The secret concoctions which make the paintings glow and come alive, the feeling that if you look into the painting long enough you will be able to step in, not like they could be photographs, but more like they are real.

All of the paintings in the exhibition have a small adventure to share.  They have all been out into the world, blown around while the artist has struggled against the elements, or raced against the sunlight to get the image onto canvas.  It takes a kind of courage and a certain amount of madness to take a large canvas and all the painting equipment, and go out into the cold night or up a windy hill, or become an obstruction on a busy street.  Campbell does not make things easy for himself, but it certainly pays off.  It must be the kind of ritual of preparing the paints and forcing one’s self to go outside and walk distances carrying all the equipment which builds this kind of artist, the kind of artist we don’t encounter very often, but who we talk about hundreds of years after they have gone.

Absence and Presence, and exhibition by Stephen Maxwell Campbell opens 14th January and runs until 25th March at Brantwood – John Ruskin’s home, Coniston, Cumbria for more information visit http://www.brantwood.org.uk.  The opening reception is from 2pm until 4 on the 14th January.


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