Rebecca Campbell Painter - London, UK

Discuss why you enjoy working in a studio with other people?

As an artist life can be very solitary, early on I realised that I was going slightly nuts working and living at home! I was so fortunate to find a studio at 401 1/2 Workshops, an 8-minute cycle ride from my house.  It is an amazing studio started in the beginning of the seventies by Michael Haynes, it was the first of its kind in London, providing studios for fine and applied artists and designers. What I love about it is being surrounded by like-minded creative people but who practise different disciplines including ceramics, textiles, jewellery as well as painters. Having been nearly there for the longest, there has been a consistent turnover of artists/makers, with the next intake of fresh graduates mixing with the established ones keeping us young minded, well maybe! It is very friendly studios, many of us having lunch together. This is a great chance to hear what projects everyone is working on, or just to catch up on gossip! Another huge plus point is having surrounding creatives to ask for advice or to use as a sounding board. And crucially, it has heating!

Rebecca Campbell in her studio

You have commented, ‘Nature, colour, detail, humour, and naïve’ describes your work, expand on this.

My work completely reflects the world I grew up in.

Nature:  I am a country girl at heart having grown up in the Irish countryside, (see more below) and have always loved traveling. I have been so lucky to see so much of the world, different landscapes, climates, animals and birds. This has been reflected in so much of my work.

Following the Scent 72dpi

Following the Scent, Oil on linen, 46 x 55 cm

Colour: I have again been influenced by nature and am constantly amazed at how beautiful the natural world is with all its colour combinations. From traveling seeing so many different cultures and their use of colour, especially in India and their exquisite Mughual Miniature paintings.

Detail: I think this must come from my mother, she was a very talented botanical flower painter and her work was so detailed. I find the older I get the more and more detailed my work is becoming, much to my own annoyance! I would love to do huge sweeping brush strokes but somehow can’t!

Humour: Growing up in Ireland was magical, the Irish have such a great sense of humour and this has rubbed off on me! I think the most wonderful response that I get is when people on seeing my paintings say it makes them smile.

Naïve: I have developed my own style of painting and it has been described as this, I guess because of often using shallow space with a large design element to the paintings. Often, they appear to be quite simple, but it takes me a long time to work them out in the first place.

Can you tell us about your commission to India?

What I love about being an artist, is that you never know what’s going to happen next. In 2012 I got an email saying the sender was coming to London the following week and could we meet. It transpired the couple were from Delhi and had seen something of mine in a magazine. We met for lunch and within half an hour I had agreed to go and stay with them in Delhi for two weeks! They wanted to give me a flavour of their India and commissioned a series of paintings from the trip. They showed me around what is called the Golden Triangle of India, Old and New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur as well as a trip to Kolkata. An incredible commission from start to finish, the couple were so hospitable and fun to be with, so generous in showing me their India and they gave me carte blanche as to what to paint. A dream job. We are still very much in touch and in fact I saw them briefly on my trip to India in November.

Palace of the Winds 72dpi

Palace of the Winds, Oil on linen, 60 x 73 cm

You do limited edition prints, which paintings do you choose and why?

I have been with a company called Collier and Dobson for many years now. I bow to their experience as to which paintings they wish to publish. I can never tell which painting or print will sell, I find it hard to distance myself from the work and look at it objectively. The one image – painting or print that always sell is the library paintings.

The Explorer 72dpi

The Explorer, Oil on linen, 65 x 54 cm

What number of prints do you have in a limited edition?

The editions are 195.

Explain why you personally sign your prints and do you also write the number and edition number on also?

Rebecca Campbell signing prints

Whilst it is a limited-edition print, rather than an original painting, it is still my work I do personally sign each one as well as number them. By doing this I feel it makes them feel special and the person buying them has something unique.

Your work is often more than a painting rather a story, discuss this aspect of your work.

I originally trained as an illustrator, it is from this background that I started doing paintings. It is probably why I have, to have a theme to my shows as a starting point. From this all my ideas come. Often, I will start with the title before the painting. Generally, there are about 24 paintings for each show, I might not have all the ideas to begin with they come as I create the paintings, often one will spark another idea.

The Temptress 72dpi

The Temptress, Oil on linen, 130.5 x 97 cm

You grew up in Ireland surrounded by gardens and animals how has this influenced your work?

I love nature and the natural world, people are surprised that I live in London. But this love came from my childhood in Ireland. I grew up in the rural countryside surrounded by farmland. We had numerous animals; dogs; donkeys; hamsters and birds including bantams and fantailed pigeons. My parents created an incredible garden from scratch, with a wooded area, a stream with ponds, herbaceous borders and a massive vegetable garden. In Ireland there are the most incredible large houses which had a faded beauty about them with peeling Chinoiserie wall papers, dogs draped over thread bare sofas and enormous walled gardens. This is where I played. I also kept a nature diary, seeing a bird or finding a flower coming back and drawing it. All these themes keep reoccurring in my work.

The Foragers 72dpi

The Foragers, Oil on Linen, 61 x 50cm

Discuss your mural work?

Over the years, I have undertaken several mural commissions in the private and public sector. These have been enormously varied, the largest being a 60-meter mural for a Children’s Wing in a hospital, another was in a private house going up the stairwell through two and a half floors of a Georgian townhouse (not easy when you get vertigo!) and another was painted on panels in the studio and then put up on site.Stairs Up

Each job requires site visits, hearing what the client wants also to assess the state of the walls and what if anything needs to be made good. After measuring up, I do a sketch to scale to show the client, there’s usually some changes made or just a tweak. Once this has been agreed I can start working. Murals are hard work and I find getting old they are more exhausting! Working on such a large scale, working out how to scale up and draw it out, then long days, up and down ladders or sitting on the floor to paint the bottom, it is all very physical, but I enjoy the challenge. Quite often the murals will have to be varnished for protection. 

Can you expand on your BT Artbox, London work? 

BT celebrated Childline’s 25th Anniversary in the year of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 by commissioning 85 artists and designers including Peter Blake, Zaha Hadid and Zandra Rhodes to create something on their famous telephone boxes, which have been recreated in fibreglass. The phone box was originally designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott to commemorate King George V’s Silver Jubilee.

The phone boxes were on display for six weeks all over London and then auctioned off to raise money for Childline.

BT Artbox, Twitter

The BT Artbox project was an open call to artists to send their ideas to reinterpret iconic phone boxes which were being made redundant by modern technology. I was thrilled I was selected alongside 84 others. My idea was about recycling, I thought it would make a perfect aviary filled with exotic birds tweeting! As it was a child’s charity I wanted to do something playful. Even the word Twitter has a double meaning, whilst it describes birds chatting, it is also the latest form of communication. Childline was set up as a way that children could safely communicate.

I painted it in a warehouse in South London alongside many of the other artists chosen. I used acrylic paint and then a very hardy varnish, so it would with stand all weathers.

Twitter, Covent Garden

Explain the work you do as commissions referred to as House Portraits.

I describe these commissions as house portraits as they often have elements in them referring to the owner. They are also very personal as they usually involve a prolonged visit to the property, really looking at every nook and cranny. They are like putting a jigsaw together, working out how the house and garden lie with each other, working out the scale and giving a flavour of the family living there. I take endless photographs and make sketches. I also take notes when being shown around, quite often stories come up of something that is special about an area. I try to include this. I take these back to the studio where I plan it all out, and then paint it.

Hall Barn, Buckinghamshire

Hall Barn, Oil on Linen, 73 x 54.5 cm

You often work on different locations; can you discuss two that have given you very different challenges.

I have worked on several mural commissions, this means being on site for a few days/weeks/months. Sometimes staying with the client too. This can be lovely but also quite intense.

The Thames Children’s Unit, Princess Margaret Hospital, Swindon.

St Thomas - Copy

Sadly, this mural no longer exists and the whole hospital has now replaced by a new one. This is often the case with mural work, but it was an amazing commission. It was a sixty meter mural along the corridors of a children’s wing. Working in full view of the public can be quite challenging. Being at a children’s hospital seeing sick children all around as well as very anxious parents was quite difficult sometimes. There were lots of plus sides to this as well, as the mural progressed I could really see the difference it made to the children as well as the staff. It seemed to bring some cheer to what a rather dreary corridor was. Working in the public domain you had to be aware of all the safety issues and be extra tidy so that no one slipped over a pot of paint.

Painting the a tuk-tuk for Elephant Family was quite a challenge, for a starter it wouldn’t fit in my studio! A very kind person let me use their space, but it was miles away up in North London, each day traveling an hour and half each way. The space I was given was at the back of the workshops, no natural light and freezing cold. It was also incredibly dusty, they were furniture makers who were continually cutting wood, this was also noisy. Against this background I had to paint the vehicle. The first problem was that it was bright pink so needed to be sanded down. This proved far harder than I first thought and took several days employing someone else to help me. It took some time to research what paints to use and how best to seal them. In the end I found an ideal metal primer then I could use my usual acrylic paints. I used a clear car varnish, this needed protective clothing and an industrial head mask. The deadline was tight, the person supplying the fabrics for the roof and interiors left it so late that I had to find someone else to make the roof. All came together at the eleventh hour, it sold at auction raising an incredible £40,000. Worth the headaches!

Indian Summer, tuktuk painted for Elephant Family

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on two shows, the first is with the charity Elephant Family who raise money and awareness for the Asian elephant. I am an Ambassador for this charity and have been working with them for the last 8 years. Projects have included painting two life size baby elephant sculptures, a tiger, an egg and a tuk. All of these were auctioned off raising thousands of pounds. In November 2017 I joined the charity in Rajasthan on their latest fund-raising campaign, Travels to My Elephant. 85 of us raced across Rajasthan in a variety of vehicle ranging from tuk-tuks, Chagas, Ambassador cars and Royal Enfield motor bikes. There will be about 24 paintings from this road trip, it has been a great opportunity apart from anything else to paint the Indian lorries we saw which artworks in are themselves.

Right of Way

Right of Way, Oil on linen, 54 x 54.5cm

I created a map of the journey which was produced as a limited-edition print for each of the racers.

Rebecca Campbell Map

The second is with the gallery Jonathan Cooper. I have been showing with him since 2002. The theme for this show is collective nouns. I love the eccentricity of the English language and this comes to the fore with the some of the names given to a collective group: for example, A Circus of Puffins; A Streak of Tigers; A Charm of Goldfinches and A Runcible of Spoonbills, I feel sure this last term must have been stolen from Edward Lear. Again, this show will comprise of 24 paintings, what’s fun about this theme is that I can paint very English creatures including hedgehogs and puffins to the exotic of tigers and cheetahs.

A Charm of Goldfinches

A Charm of Goldfinches, Oil on linen, 45 x 65 cm

Contact details:

Rebecca Campbell 

Rebecca Campbell, London, UK

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, March 2018