Self-taught artist Thomas Campbell is largely known for his surfboarding films and his association with the Beautiful Losers collective, which draws from the DIY aesthetic of skateboarding culture, graffiti, and the punk community. His recent work in painting and sculpture, some of which can be seen at Joshua Liner Gallery until mid-July, does not fail to withhold the artist’s signature, multidisciplinarian spirit. Appropriately titled Ampersand, the show demonstrates Campbell’s interest in multimedia work and presents a theme grounded in non-grammatical conjunctions that express confusion, informality, and in the context of Campbell’s art, a certain whimsy. “Ummmm”s and “Yarrr”s and “hmmmm”s decorate paintings, sculptures, and prints, communicating in unison an overall anti-thesis that art should be an honest, casual thing. Honoring the aesthetics of arts and crafts, the artist proposes the beauty in fun, in pastime, and in That being said, the work feels a bit out of place in Joshua Liner gallery’s painfully quiet, white-cube space. Consider bringing your own soundtrack. Some punk rock, maybe the Beach Boys.
The show consists of works in sculpture, quilt-like collage, and painting, plus a few prints thrown into the mix. Campbell’s new works continue to refer to the artist’s roots in surf culture via aesthetic links to street art and some vague semblances of surfboards in the shapes of some of his illustration’s characters. The sculptures are mainly constructed of painted gourds, which are, at times, clearly just painted gourds, and other times are built upon with other materials into a representational form. In the quilt pieces are constructed out of materials the artist has collected over time through his travels and studio practice, including bits of photography, foreign currencies, office materials, and other compelling papers, resulting in colorful, sewn patchworks.
The strongest works in the exhibition are the woodblock sculptures cut to the shapes of Campbell’s painted figures, highlighting his likeable illustrative style that draws from graffiti and “folk-art” woodblock prints. In the simplicity and precision of the base, one can admire the careful, clever nesting of text within the painted image and the messages presented. The larger paintings, multi-paneled structures that are finished with pastel-colored acrylic and spray paint, take away from that compelling line work with all of their bells and whistles. Knobs and wooden blimps attached to the panels feel oddly scaled and leave the concept behind the paintings to appear underdeveloped. Nevertheless, the artist’s intention to advocate for fun art, rejecting the frequent, unwarranted pomposity of the artists statement as a medium, is successful.
Words and images by Dianne Loftis