GoLocalProv | Gallery 175 features inventive paintings by Peter Campbell

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

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PHOTO: Michael Rose

Rhode Island artist Peter Campbell makes paintings that are defined by outward qualities of inventiveness and even whimsy, but often explore serious subject matter. For Campbell, images from children’s books or toys also serve as studies in history. Paintings that share a format with a comic explore issues like climate change. A solo exhibition of Campbell’s work on view through June 24 at Gallery 175 in Pawtucket offers viewers a chance to explore his distinctive style through multiple bodies of work.

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Campbell trained at the old Vesper George School of Art in Boston and made a career as associate creative director and senior graphic designer for a number of local businesses. In 1989 he was selected for NASA’s Space Art Program, an opportunity that provided him with unique access. During the program, Campbell saw the launch of the shuttle Atlantis and created the Voyage to Venus painting, which is now part of NASA’s permanent collection. He has also created three children’s books on the themes of space exploration and baseball. His talents as a documentalist and illustrator shine through in his recent work exhibited at Pawtucket.

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PHOTO: Michael Rose

A series of Campbell’s exhibition places Playmobil figurines at the heart of historical events or transformed works of art history. In a copy of Caravaggio’s famous “Conversion of Saint Paul”, the apostle is depicted as a toy, fallen from his horse illuminated by divine inspiration. In addition to his contribution of staged toy figurines, the artist also replaces the baroque darkness of Caravaggio with a luminous landscape setting. Alongside Campbell’s Caravaggio, two figurines interfere in Rembrandt’s Night Watch, becoming the central characters of the well-known work. Campbell’s sense of humor shines in plays like these, as does his ability to help viewers reconsider familiar stories.

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PHOTO: Michael Rose

Campbell’s interest in history shines through more forcefully in other works that question the treatment of Indigenous peoples in the American West or explore the myth of the lost cause in the American Civil War. In one painting, Campbell recreates the cover of a children’s edition of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in an oversized format. In the top corner of the two-dimensional image, Campbell affixed a three-dimensional Confederate toy ejected from his mount. The play is titled “Ivanhoe and the Death of the Lost Cause” and references critics like Mark Twain, who attributed elements of pre-war culture to the Scottish author.

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PHOTO: Michael Rose

Other works in the exhibition explore the themes of pollution and climate change. A mixed media work, titled ‘From Sea to Shining Sea’, shows the Statue of Liberty submerged in a flooding and polluted ocean. Campbell affixed various pieces of detritus to the surface of the work, embellishing it with trash. Plastic debris and a McDonald’s coffee cup contrast with the statue’s pointed helmet just above the waves.

In another recent series, Campbell draws attention to the destruction of natural habitats and the animals that inhabit them. A painting from this collection is displayed in the exhibition and depicts a jaguar facing a burning jungle. The feline is depicted at ease in a comfortable setting on a canvas, which floats against a background that shows its habitat being destroyed. The result is both inventive and provocative, calling viewers to action through its stark and heartbreaking contrast.

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PHOTO: Michael Rose

While some of the most impressive pieces presented are those filled with complex compositions or those that tackle difficult subjects, Campbell’s skill is also evident in the smaller works. A modest-scale painting of an American flag hanging against an ominous black background is particularly powerful and can stop a viewer in its tracks.

A generous space, Gallery 175 offers an ideal place to exhibit a prolific creator like Campbell. Located at 175 Main Street, Pawtucket, the gallery occupies a lobby leading from the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center. The space is operated by the non-profit organization XOS Plus and is dedicated to showcasing local artists. After the end of Campbell’s exhibition on June 24, Galerie 175 will present the duo Allie Sabalis and Cathy Chin from June 26 to August 26, 2022.

In the collection of works on display in Peter Campbell’s current solo exhibition, visitors will find an artist with technical skills suited to a diverse pool of interests. From topics of history and climate to considerations of the broader American experience, Campbell’s output is that of an inquisitive and hard-working creator.

Peter Campbell’s personal exhibition will be presented at gallery 175 until June 24th. The gallery is located in the Blackstone Valley Visitor Center at 175 Main Street, Pawtucket. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

To learn more about Peter Campbell, visit www.petercampbellfineart.com.

To learn more about Gallery 175, visit www.gallery175.com.

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