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Cressida Campbell’s latest exhibition is transforming how we see the world

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From her molasses-rich colour palette to her ability to re-imagine kitchen scraps with the deceptive ease of a film dissolve, it’s easy to get lost within Cressida Campbell’s world.

Her latest exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) is intimately soaked in her identity, the beautiful details of painted wood blocks and a ‘hard to pinpoint’ temporal energy that will disarm and transport audiences along the way.

For this Australian artist, her work seeks to push boundaries, blurring the line between painting and printmaking in ways that a way that is unique to her craft. Her artistic approach shows the wrinkles of time, a magical technique laced with Japanese origins, creating these stylistic layers that move between a wild landscape and the delicately imposed markings of her painted woodblocks.

Cressida Campbell, Nasturtiums, 2002, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gift of Margaret Olley 2006, image courtesy the Art Gallery of New South Wales © Cressida Campbell

For curator Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax, these moments of intersection and the joyful unison of different art forms is what makes Cressida’s work so unique.

“I think for me, Cressida is the only artist I’ve come across who really works in between particular fields. She works right in the middle of painting and printmaking, and that’s really, really unusual. Normally, you can kind of push someone, or one way or the other.”

Contrary to popular belief, Cressida developed this technique before she travelled to Japan. It’s a love note to the origins of the art form re-explored to be her own.

“She studied in Japan for a few weeks in 1995, but she’d already developed her own technique before then, so she already knew how to make Japanese-style kind of woodcuts,”says Sarina.

“And then she went there [Japan] because she always loved Japanese woodcuts anyway, but then was like, ‘I really like the way I do it’.”

As you walk through the six rooms that hold Cressida’s work so delicately, you will discover a carefully crafted narrative that focuses less on order but rather on snapshots of time, tonal shifts, the ebb and flow of memory and moments of repetition.

Cressida Campbell, Still life with electric fan, 1997, University Art Collection, Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney, donated through The Hon RP Meagher Bequest 2011, image courtesy the University Art Collection, Chau Chak Wing Museum, The University of Sydney © Cressida Campbell

Where one room explores the small details of her home, the other will focus on her process with worn-out paint brushes and empty tubs of paint from her studio. The last two rooms will take you outside to landscapes and bushland that find mutability within an unrivalled compositional control.

These striking visuals seem to inhabit a common vein amid crossed borders and different periods of time.

“There is a movement from inside to outside. And I think that’s a nice kind of process for people to move through. It’s nice to things within subjects, but also to move and open out into this wider vision, or even hopefully, by the end of the exhibition, a wider appreciation of Cressida’s work,” explains Sarina.

Cressida Campbell, Through the windscreen, 1986, National Gallery of Australia, Kamberri/Canberra, purchased 1987, © Cressida Campbell

And just when you thought this exhibition had explored every poetic detail of Cressida’s life, there is an additional side room –acting as a time capsule –taking us to when Cressida was a child, a tantalising glimpse into the humble beginnings of her work.

“We will also do have a side room that’s going to have a screen and documentary that we’re making especially for the exhibition,” says Sarina.

“So that’ll have all sorts of lovely things about interviews and the process. But we’re also borrowing all these things from Cressida that include childhood drawings– which is just gorgeous– work from she was seven or eight, as well as early works from art school.”

For those of us who lament over having to leave Cressida’s world and re-enter our currently cold one, the NGA is allowing audiences to take a part of her magic home with us.

Alongside the exhibition, audiences will be gifted with an illustrated catalogue shadowing Cressida’s work through the perspective of various poets, artists, painters, and psych geographers–different eyes to Sarina that seek to explore and unfold, conjuring deep wells of meaning within Cressida’s work.

Cressida Campbell, Studio, 1989, Mosman Art Collection, image courtesy the artist and Mosman Art Gallery © Cressida Campbell

But perhaps this isn’t the only thing that will remain tethered to us as we leave this exhibition. Her work brings to life a meltingly feminine gaze that gently pulls you in, holds your hand and shows you the beauty that exists within the everyday.

“From what I get from her landscape, there’s more sense of and appreciation of being there and that kind of response to being outside; she has talked about loving the feeling of lying on your back in the grass, looking at the sky,” says Sarina.

“I think there is that expansiveness and a lot of her landscape works are about someone enjoying being out in nature listening, breathing green air and also drawing. It’s not just from just looking at it from a distance, like she’s in it, but she’s also depicting it.”

Tickets are on sale now.

Feature image supplied by the National Gallery of Australia


What: Cressida Campbell

Where: The National Gallery of Australia

When: Saturday 24 Sep 2022 – Sunday 19 Feb 2023


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