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Robert Campbell, Junior

Robert Campbell, Junior

1944 - 1993

Primarily self-taught, Robert Campbell jnr. emerged during the 1980s’, as a prominent urban aboriginal artist. His bold, idiosyncratic style strikes a remarkable balance between the public and the private as he tells visual stories of his personal memories, of historical events and some of the tumultuous political breakthroughs of the day. Born in the country town of Kempsey, Campbell jnr. walked with his father through the bushlands alongside the Macleay river, finding wood suitable for making boomerangs. He would help his father decorate them with scorch-incised indigenous patterning and designs of birds and animals. They would sell them to passing tourists. After finishing school at fourteen, Campbell moved about the area working at labouring jobs but continuing to paint and sell small landscapes using a variety of found or leftover paint on cardboard. Settling back in Kempsey, alongside meeting his partner and starting a family, Campbell’s artistic vocation took centre stage. He met other artists, developed his skills and confidence and became attuned to the immensity of his people’s struggle. He liked to work under the trees in his own backyard and was always supportive of young local artists who liked to call by. He said that his subject matter came from things that touched him personally. Campbell soon became known for his brightly coloured acrylic paintings which drew on his early decorative work of naïve figures and their activities. After visiting the Northern territory in the late 80’s and meeting Aboriginal artists in their communities, he acquired new techniques such as dot painting, x-ray vision and the use of ground ochres. He grafted these methods seamlessly into his graphic style.  From nostalgic, childhood scenes of camp life and bush food gathering, to brutal scenes of white conquest, murder and the poisoning of waterholes, Campbell managed to convey a sense of unflinching observation of the past whilst avoiding the heavy weight of political stridence. He often uses a sequence of frames within the painting to tell a story, such as in Abo History Facts (1988). This cartoonesque evocation of the coming of white man (in tall ships,) shows the deleterious consequences of colonisation: from initial destruction of environment and enforced segregation in crowded missions to the more recent publicity around incarceration and deaths in custody. Campbell powerfully instructs his audience while still bubbling with irrepressible colour, pattern and spirit. “Few practitioners in world art encompass joy and suffering so effortlessly as Robert Campbell jnr.” (George, 2014) Before his untimely death from heart disease, Campbells vivid colours and raw, naïve vision featured in many exhibitions, including at the Rebecca Hossack gallery in London. He helped to establish the voice of urban aboriginal art within the Australian art establishment and today, still provides us with a unique indigenous perspective on history.   Reference: George, Alexander in Tradition Today: Indigenous Art in Australia, Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney 2014 Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010 Hossack, Rebecca,

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