GRETNA CAMPBELL: FORCE OF NATURE

December 3 - February 6, 2021

INSTALLATION IMAGES

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Gretna Campbell is a noted for her personified depiction of nature; particularly the rugged rich rocks, landscapes, and water of Maine that she frequented. Rooted in the paths of Cubism, she succeeded in breaking down true color, light, and form. Capturing nature’s mystery and beauty. Her method of brush work echoes the life and constant movement of change inherent in the natural world.

Campbell taught at the Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia College of Art, Yale School of Art, Maryland Institute College of Art, and the New York Studio School. From 1978 to 1986, she and her husband settled in Stillwater Township, New Jersey where she began painting in the winter and spring until her final illness. In 1987, she was elected into the National Academy of Design as an associate member.

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Gretna Campbell (1922-1987) at Denise Bibro, 529 W 20th, NYC. Through January 9th.

While her work was not “abstract” she and her husband, Louis Finkelstein, were closely associated with many of the New York School and Abstract Expressionist era artists. With full awareness of what the hierarchy was at that time, she chose to remain true to her first love, painting in nature from the landscape. Despite an art climate which had generally excoriated that sensibility for 50 years, they painted “en plein air” knowing very well that this was not what the contemporary art world supported.

Campbell was a highly influential teacher and artist. She began painting by taking a workshop through the Roosevelt-era Works Progress Administration. She was a pioneering feminist long before feminism took hold in the 1960s and 1970s.

If memory serves me, I was with her when she painted “Wallpack Snow”, in this exhibition. Gretna painted outside year-round, famously keeping her fingers warm in 20 degree temperatures by baking hot potatoes and keeping them in her pockets to periodically clutch. “They stay warm in your pockets for an hour, and after they cool off you can eat them and it makes you feel good, so you get another half hour out of it” she told me (as she did many others).

Art with a capital A came before ”a career in art”. The painter Jeffrey Carr, who studied with Gretna at the New York Studio School and later at Yale, commented that he once asked Gretna how to get an art career going. “Gretna gave me a look as if I had farted at the dinner party. ‘Ya go to a lotta parties’ is what she told me”.

Gretna saw herself as a collaborator with Nature. One time I was painting with her and the wind blew my canvas off its easel. It slid down a large rock and the paint smeared. She saw the surprised look on my face for a few seconds, then she laughed and said “they ALWAYS land face down”. When I turned it over she looked at it for a minute and after that pause she said “Don’t touch it.” – Don Kimes

 

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