In the Studio with Jules Campbell (a virtual interview)


  • Jules Campbell & Linda Ellinwood + Inner Room guest: Lori Murphy’s Canaday Redacted
  • The Gearbox Gallery – January 29 through March 13. 2021
  • Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 5:00 pm
Safe (detail), mixed media, 12″ x 12″

So I have to tell you I have no desire to do any art during COVID.  Isn’t that weird?

No, there have been times when I just wanted to go away but there was nowhere to go.  Let’s talk about art.  I ad lib these interviews because each and every one of you (artists) are unique, so one size does not fit all.  So let’s talk process.  What’re you working with?

OK.  I’m a process artist.  I never really know what I’m going to do.  It is really more about just showing up in the studio.  Recently I’ve been playing with paper.  Pretty much everything you see is with paper.  Collage.  Generally I work on wood panel and I’ve been using paper one way or another in my work for many years. Before I start I’ve got all my papers ready.  Magazines, old music, cuttings… It’s all the detritus, the paper, that comes into the house.  I have a ton of old cooking magazines; they’re really good because they have a lot of bright colors.  I’ll rip out pages and tear them by hand or use a paper cutter or sometimes put them through a paper shredder… Or just rip or cut with scissors to get shapes.  So when I get down to using them they are ready to go.

Can we talk about one in particular?  How big is this?

Tributary, mixed media, 24″ x 24″

That one is 24 by 24.  Just as I prepare my paper materials I prep my panels before starting. I always apply clear gesso and then a couple of layers of cadmium orange as a base.   For this one I mixed a couple of reds to get that color… And I use Payne’s Gray sometimes under the reds.

Yes, I can see the subtle difference of the red depending on the underpainting.

And I do a lot of sanding and you get little hints of the orange coming through… Yes, its acrylic.  The collaging is layering and layering and sometimes I will put old rubber bands into it or string because then, when you sand back, interesting patterns emerge  So except for the orange-red there is no color added, the color in the collaging is just the color in the paper and what it does.  I use a matte medium to adhere the collage.  I use a finishing sander because the layers are so thick.  It’s always at least five layers, even fifteen layers or more.

I’m looking at the circular one again.

Atoll, mixed media, 24″x 24″

That one is called Atoll.  I began it and I thought it looked like a reef or an aerial view of a volcano.

Fascinating.  When I looked at it without knowing anything about it I thought of the Kilauea volcano caldera in Hawaii.  But when you said “atoll,” that triggered remembrances of working on ships in the South Pacific and some of the islands we visited were atolls.

Yes, so that was my inspiration, an atoll or a volcano.  One thing with the collaging is that once you commit to glue it is really hard to go back.  You can only go forward because you can never completely get rid of it.

Let’s go to this one.  It looks trees, like a stand of trees.

Stripped, mixed media, 30″ x 20″

Let me tell you a story.  So I started off doing the orange ones that are 30 by 30 with those horizontal stripes of orange and collage.  And when I stood them vertically everyone said they looked like trees, so I actually put some limbs on to see how it looked.  I wanted to get away from the orange for a while and the only way I could let go of it was by using white paper.  Then I could use a different color, like blue.  (Discussion of how she arrived at the blue, “But don’t tell my secret!”  Mum’s the word…) My three favorite colors are orange, titan (titanium) buff, and Payne’s gray.  I don’t really know what’s going to happen until I get to the “ah ha” moment.  (Long discussion of the painter Francis Bacon and his love of orange ensued.)  Maybe I need alcohol or drugs to make me work more… (No Jules, maybe forty years ago but I don’t think you’d better try that now! ) (laughter) I think you’re right!  With all of these I tried to change the color but I kept repainting them with the orange.  I just felt they had more energy.

So let’s talk about the large, tall painting.

Stand, mixed media, 48″ x 24″

I thought, oh my gosh, it kind of reminded me of a (Gustav) Klimt painting.  I do jig saw puzzles and one of them was Klimt’s “The Kiss” and I looked at the way the paper was all put together in the collage and it just reminded me of something from Klimt… I kind of get it.  The patterns in the collage areas are reminiscent of the decorative patterns in his painting.  

How do you title these paintings?

I don’t like it to be too literal.  I called this tall one, Stand.  Finding titles for paintings can be challenging… What I was doing in the past, because I walk the dog around this area, and it’s all warehouses and such, I was using titles like “24th Street” or “Magnolia” because my work was impacted by the area.  But these are different…  I don’t like doing purely representational things.  The troubling situation last year really influenced my work.

There’s been so much anxiety this last year with the virus and politics and all and my dreams have been just crazy and have taken me to strange places.

Yeah, I am sleeping poorly.  The horizontal orange ones are almost like places you might have gone.  So I call those two Full Stop

Full Stop 1, mixed media on panel, 30″ x 30″
Full Stop 2, mixed media on panel, 30″ x 30″

Well, when I look at the horizontal ones as opposed to the vertical ones I would never think of trees.  They remind me more of some sort of geological slice of time, prehistoric or otherworldly.

I quite often turn my work about to see if it works better that way, upside down.  It allows me to see it in a way I wouldn’t have thought.  Going back to the white on the black one, it works better up close, because there is a lot going on in the collage.  And until I sanded it the black was too (opaque)… but the sanding brought out the color in it.

Going back to the color orange.  Do you always go to orange?

I always go back to the orange over the gesso because you get that little warmth or glint or glimmer.

So, in a nutshell, you’re really working with lots of layers.

Lots of layers.  When I’m doing collage I do lots of layers to get depth and something interesting going on.

You’ve said you don’t know where the paintings are coming from.

Yeah, it’s all a process.  I just start with some strips, or I’ll sometimes start with some drips and move it around and collage in the drips and see what happens… so I just keep going until something is appearing… I’m always waiting until I reach that “ah ha” moment.  (Discussion on abstraction.) I do like geometric and urban things and linear, graphic qualities.  It’s a process that I keep working on and refining until I reach a place like.

How about this one?

Safe, mixed media, 12″ x 12″

It’s small, 12 by 12.  It’s different than the others because you’ve devoted almost all the surface to the collage. That one is called Safe.  There’s a lot of collage and sanding.  When you build up the layers in some places and begin sanding, you get this sense of movement or motion.  There are two others of this size and feeling.  I know that Linda likes to work with kelp (Linda Ellinwood, the co-artist in the exhibit.)  I was at Inverness and I found some kelp on the beach and I was thinking of the organic movement  when I started this mini series.  I felt like I needed three of them…  The three of them together all have a feeling of motion and they work well together.

Shelter, Safe and Division, mixed media, all three 12″ x 12″

So it seems that it is all about the materials and manipulating them in creating surfaces.

Yes. Also, I’ve done print making, metal casting, sculpture, painting, lots of techniques. A lot of what I do is discovery.

So I always wrap these interviews up by asking the same question.  You’re not going to make me sound like an idiot now, are you?  No, I’m going to sound like an idiot because the question is sort of idiotic but I’ve gotten such interesting answers.  So, the question is, why do you do it?

I thought I did it because I love to keep busy and make art.  But I have to say, that sometimes, until I get into it, it feels like work.  I like to be creative.  I have to get into everything that I’m doing.  I guess because I enjoy making something, something that someone else might appreciate.  But to be honest, even if they don’t, I do what I feel I want to do.  I don’t paint for anybody, I paint for me, and I hope somebody will appreciate it.