Stag of the Dump. © Christopher Campbell
Fern Ross goes to Leeds Met Gallery where she encounters sheep, deer and all manner of things in the paintings of Christopher Campbell running until April 5 2007.
A deer stalks into view. It pauses and examines its eerily quiet surroundings: a dark and destitute suburbia haunted by the discarded remnants of mankind. The sky casts an unflinching gaze on the desolate scenes beneath it. Where has everyone gone?
Christopher Campbell’s Epoch is a series of paintings that are improbable but believable, beautiful but bleak; he creates a world that is fantastical and humorous, yet darkly disturbing.
Evoking source material such as the films 28 Days Later and The Beach, his intricate paintings depict England awash in a pseudo apocalyptic environment. Cows, sheep and horses roam free in an uninviting suburban landscape: all 60s and 70s architecture and temporary accommodation.
Shit Heap Sheep. © Christopher Campbell
Curator of the exhibition, Moira Innes, explains: “His work is a lot to do with that slight worry that something is about to happen.”
“There is always a suggestion of people but they are never actually in them (his paintings). It is like he is seeing this as a possibility. His work is very topical, and there is a definite underlying narrative running through it.”
Born in Birmingham in 1975, Campbell studied Fine Art at Leeds Metropolitan University and since graduating in 1998 has developed a steady exhibition profile with shows around the country.
His paintings have always had an affair with the urban environment, often displaying a sense of remoteness and macabre romanticism in their stillness, emptiness and fragility.
Suburban Splendour. © Christopher Campbell
“I have always had an affinity with the urban environment, existing happily in towns and suburbia, yet preferring to shy away from the sprawling masses. As a result, the paintings display a sense of misanthropy and an absence of presence,” says Campbell.
“Over the years, I have been drawn to paint scenes of nocturnal empty suburban streets, burned-out cars, sprawling airports and the London underground. However, recently, through a desire to further my practice, I have introduced a somewhat more fantastical element to the paintings. This has culminated in the works for Epoch.”
Perhaps nothing captures this more than New Dawn (Oil on Linen, 2006) where horses graze, perfectly at ease, in unnaturally empty urban surroundings, swathed in a hazy, almost radioactive-looking sky.
There is an unquestionable sense of menace and threat. Indeed, one horse stands boldly on the right hand side of the painting, bearing its gaze directly at the viewer.
The exhibition also showcases Campbell’s playfulness and desire to experiment with the medium, as demonstrated by the slapped-on oils used to create Shit Heap Sheep (Oil on Linen, 2006) and Suburban Splendour (Oil on Linen, 2006), created almost entirely from a single tube of blue paint.
New Dawn. © Christopher Campbell
Campbell’s consistency is something that draws Moria back to his work time and time again (he has shown successfully at the Met Gallery in both 2000 and 2002). She first came across his paintings during his degree show and says she was immediately struck by the quiet mastery of his use of the medium.
“I have enjoyed watching his work develop,” she explains. “He has always remained true to what he is doing and stuck with it, even at times when painting has not been in vogue."
“His work is highly realistic but deliberately not photo realistic. He stops just before he gets to that point. And his resistance to the many trends and fashions over the years has resulted in even stronger and more accomplished work.”
Moria adds: “To be honest, I can’t see him doing anything other than paint. I think he is just in love with it.”
As part of Epoch run in Leeds before it travels to StART SPACE in London, visitors are invited to write stories about the paintings, something entirely fitting: Campbell’s paintings invite the creation of fictions.