Alas, Cressida Campbell's critically acclaimed retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia has just closed. She marked the first living Australian artist to be given the "blockbuster" spot – an achievement that almost didn’t happen when a life-threatening brain abscess paralysed one side of her body. Thankfully, she recovered and could continue painting, her gentle practice going on to draw audiences from across the country.
There is a slight incongruity to Cressida’s practice and popularity – eager eyes hustling to witness quiet scenes of the everyday. It is, however, this reverence to ordinary life that many audiences find captivating. Whether a winking Monarch Butterfly, shifting hemlines or debris pocketed from a bushwalk, Cressida’s vision is imbued with a beguiling profundity. Her exhibition at the NGA may have closed, but her star continues to burn bright.
Cressida Campbell - 'Seeds'
Dedicated to Beauty
When reflecting on her practice, Cressida cites Edgar Degas’s maxim that you should never paint anything you don’t love – “it doesn’t have to be beautiful in any way, but it has to be something you love to examine.” She has built a practice paying reverence to objects not typically held as beautiful — leeks, bush debris, laundry, half empty wine glasses, household clutter — domestic scenes often devoid of people.
These objects are given painstakingly precise treatment. Carving her designs with exceptional precision on woodblock, she then produces either singular or very few prints, carefully touching up the plate and print. She is inspired by Margaret Preston and Japanese Ukiyo printmaking, which she got to know when she studied at Yoshida Hanga Academy in Tokyo.
Art critic John MacDonald recalls that “she lived on the dole while perfecting [her] idiosyncratic technique.”
Cressida Campbell - 'Resting Butterfly'
Meaning in Humble Things
Cressida may have dedicated her practice to depicting household objects, but the results are anything but ordinary. Through them, we witness a woman acutely attuned to detail, interior design and the natural world, a master of composition unbothered by trends in art.
Perhaps above all however, her work speaks to a truth. The domestic worlds we inhabit are not incidental, but reflections of the lives they hold. How we look at the world says as much about it as it does us – to find beauty in it, is a triumph of hope over cynicism. As Cressida carves a deliberate window into her world, she offers us a moment of intimacy and voyeurism, a vestiage of her philosophy for life.
A leader in her field, Cressida is represented across national and international collections, including at the National Gallery of Victoria and British Museum. She has a devout collector following, is a multi-award winner and the subject of a monograph.
Explore our full Cressida Campbell collection.
"My main inspiration comes from what is directly around me... I remember combinations of colours I see in houses, pictures, gardens, buildings or sculptures here and around the world"