(Above: A landscape by artist David Campbell)
By Randi Bjornstad
The newest featured artist exhibit at Tim Boyden’s Out on a Limb Gallery in downtown Eugene is a series of beautifully rendered artwork — still life, landscape and portrait in drawing, oil and watercolor — by Eugene artist David Campbell.
But as usually happens, looking at a skilled artist’s output often tells little of why or how the talent and hard work meshed to create the artistic oeuvre.
In Campbell’s case, he can’t even remember a time when he wasn’t drawing, but he does remember that as a child growing up in Corvallis, he got “lots of praise” from his parents for his efforts. He obviously had an idea that art would be an important part of his life, because when he was 15 years old, he sought out his first job with a World War II veteran named Eldon Humphrey, who had owned a sign shop before the war and had returned to Corvallis and reopened it after the conflict ended.
“I remember I introduced myself to him and showed him a painting I had done of Norman Rockwell,” Campbell said. “He was an interesting man — I remember he was also a violinist — and he agreed to hire me.”
The boy’s duties included cutting boards to size and painting them white, in effect creating “canvases” that the sign painter would use for his lettering and designs.
“He taught me how to letter, too,” Campbell recalled. “I worked for him until I graduated from high school.”
That was in 1964, and it was “barely,” he said. “I had some medical issues in high school — a collapsed lung — which meant I was excused temporarily from (physical education), and after I recovered I just never went back to P.E. Then when it was time to graduate, I was terrified someone was going to come back to me and say, ‘You can’t graduate — you never went back to P.E.’ ”
His grade point average was only 2.7, Campbell said, in the realm of a C+, “because I only really liked art.” Nonetheless, he somehow won a full scholarship — “The E.E. Wilson scholarship,” he said — to Oregon State University, which included tuition and a part-time job at the university bookstore.
But things still didn’t go well academically.
“My GPA was only 1.7 after a year or so, so I told them I was giving the scholarship back — they said that wasn’t necessary, but I said I was not fulfilling my obligation,” Campbell said. “I got that ethical sense from my mother, probably.”
In any case, he dropped out of school and went to work at a lumber mill, a choice that may have been influenced by his father’s career as a carpenter. His mother was a housewife whose favorite hobby was plane spotting — watching and identifying passing aircraft — and who also worked in a cannery.
“My boss, Eldon, said I probably should learn something that I could fall back on,” Campbell recalled, “but I think that was probably bad advice — at that point, I probably should have looked into art school, but my family didn’t have the means to help with that.”
Even so, his mother knew of his interest in art and illustration, “and she gave me a first edition copy of “Norman Rockwell, Illustrator,” he said. “It had all kinds of his illustrations, plus discussions of all his methods.”
From there he bounced around between jobs — the Atiyeh rug cleaning business, then a stint working in OSU’s Oregon State Farm Service, where he enjoyed working with a crew of older men on farming activities.
But it was in 1967, when Campbell joined the Army, that his future began to coalesce. He was accepted at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, Calif., where he studied Russian and Chinese, after which he was ordered to Ford Lewis to learn Vietnamese.
“Then my dad got really sick, and I had to go home,” Campbell said. “When I returned, I was given new orders, to go to Fort Ord and choose between Russian and Swahili. I chose Russian and put in
2,000 hours of class time in Russian, after which he was posted to Germany.
“I thrived during my four years in the Army,” Campbell said. “And I met my wife in Germany, and we came back to the United States in 1971, and I enrolled at the University of Oregon,” where he did a double major in Russian and painting.
Since then, many of his paintings have grown out of abstract ideas that he “translates” into artistic images. For example, he and his wife keep the house in good order, “but my shop is a little out of order,” Campbell admits. “So I thought about the idea of disorder and I have a series of paintings called ‘Delight in Disorder.’ ”
No. 2 in the “disorder” series is a still life of items in his shop. No. 3 is a finely wrought painting of accumulated newspapers.
Many of his paintings are derived from literary references, such as “April is the Cruelest Month,” based on Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
As far as painting goes, he’s “still going strong,” Campbell said, even though the process can be taxing.
“I’m trying to stop avoiding being a painter,” he said. “The intensity of painting is difficult, because it means too much to me.”
Paintings by David Campbell
When: Through January
Where: Out on a Limb Gallery, 191 E. Broadway, Eugene
Gallery hours: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday
Information: 541-342-5937 or Out on a Limb Gallery on Facebook