At Home: Robert Campbell Jnr

Robert Campbell Jnr, Welfare, Don’t take my Kids, 1987, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 97.5 x 126.5cm. Image: courtesy the Artbank collection

Robert Campbell Jnr, Welfare, Don’t take my Kids, 1987, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, 97.5 × 126.5cm. Image: courtesy the Artbank collection

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this article contains names of people who have since passed away. 

Born in Kempsey on the Macleay River, Robert Campbell Jnr (1944-1993) spent most of his artistic career conveying and exploring stories of discrimination and the ongoing repercussions of colonisation.

Artbank’s Robert Campbell Jnr: History Painter is the first retrospective exhibition of Campbell’s work. Curated by Djon Mundine the show brings together 26 works from public and private collections, including ten paintings held by Artbank.

Visitors to this exhibition will be immediately struck by Campbell’s vivid style – bright, heavily patterned works full of movement – made all the more impressive given that he was largely self-taught.

The works in this exhibition are predominantly from the 1980s painted in the run up to, and during Australia’s bicentenary celebrations. It was a socially and politically active time where growing discussion and protest around the treatment of Indigenous people loomed large in public debate.

Campbell canvasses a range of injustices. In Barred from the Baths, Roped Off at the Pictures II, Death in Custody and Welfare, Don’t take my Kids,he explores issues of segregation, dispossession and disempowerment.  Other works, such as Phillip’s Landing and Chained Aboriginals, convey injustices from early colonial contact.

Visitors to this exhibition will be immediately struck by Campbell’s vivid style – bright, heavily patterned works full of movement – made all the more impressive given that he was largely self-taught.

A large number of the paintings are set in the Macleay region and convey stories from the local area. Map of the Massacres of Blacks on the Macleay Valley, Shooting the Blacks and Rape of the Cedar tell of the devastating local impact of colonisation. It’s easy to feel Campbell’s deep connection to the area where he was born. Indeed, the first work to greet visitors to the exhibition is Sunset over the Macleay Overlooking Euroka – a strikingly beautiful representation of his region.

Other works, such as the portrait of Macleay Aboriginal sporting identity Sammie Alfie Drew, and Campbell’s own self-portrait set in Kempsey, convey the stories of people from the Macleay region.

Robert Campbell Jnr: History Painter runs until 23 May 2015.

 

Meet Kat Crossley; law graduate, writer, florist, and museum and gallery lover. We call her Gallerina, and she’s one of our Roving Reporters. She’ll be giving us her insights every month in M&Gazine as she flounces around the state from museum to gallery, so stay tuned.

You can find her on Twitter at @kat_crossley or exploring an exhibition near you. 

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