A Campbell webpage
As a young child I drew incessantly on every blank space in my schoolbooks, so, to deflect me from vandalism, I was sent to art classes weekly. From early childhood until leaving school at sixteen, I attended weekly classes with a classically trained art teacher, Palm Skerrett. Her studio was initially in an attic on Dawson Street in Dublin (now a modern office block), and later in a freezing building on South Frederick Street where large mushrooms grew from the walls. She was a formidable lady who did not hesitate to criticise, regardless of one's age or sensitivities and I learnt from her the difference between art that is authentic and art that is dishonest or pretentious. She insisted that I draw what I saw rather than what I thought I saw, or thought I should see - to keep too much thinking out of it. Palm introduced me to the work of her own contemporaries, and immediate predecessors, including Sean O'Sullivan (whose marvellous pastel portraits hang in the main corridor of St Vincent's University Hospital) and Muriel Brandt, whose portraits of children are remarkable for their absolute lack of sentimentality.
My secondary school had excellent art facilities and an open-minded attitude, and I was allowed to do art on a daily basis, instead of other activities, which may explain why I am utterly unable to hit a ball with any form of stick or racquet. I and two of my classmates submitted portfolios as part of our application to the National College of Art and Design degree course, and these portfolios were deemed the top three at a national level. However, common sense and a parental opinion prevailed and I decided to study medicine instead. Perhaps the mushrooms which had grown so exhuberantly in Palm Skerrett's freezing studio suggested to me that it might be difficult to earn a living as an artist.
Over the years I continued to attend a variety of art classes and had brief flirtations with fashion design and graphic art. It became painfully obvious that I would never master a sewing machine, but my interest in graphic design found some use in medical school in University College Dublin where I designed and produced posters advertising the annual Med Ball in the Mater and St Vincent's Hospitals. That these posters were always stolen after the Ball was, I suppose, a backhanded compliment, although some payment would have been very welcome at that stage. After my internship I started to attend night classes in life-drawing and portraiture with Des Carrick in NCAD and discoveed soft pastels for the first time there. During my first job in psychiatry, in the Drug Treatment Centre (then in Jervis St.), I produced a series of posters based on life drawings in charcoal, to promote awareness of HIV, and these posters still hang in the boardroom in the newer premises on Pearse St. Later in my training, I developed an interest in psychoanalysis, particularly in the theories of Lacan, and enrolled in the St Vincent's/UCD MSc course in Psychotherapy. By this time I was working almost exclusively in soft pastel. Later, while working in the Pain Management Programme in St Vincent's, I took up on-glaze painting (china painting) and still do some of this when time and patience allows. However, my main interests are still in soft pastel and to a lesser extent in pen-and-ink and watercolour.
Pastels allow an almost endless manipulation of the surface of the face - the pastel portrait is never entirely finished, indeed the medium lends itself to a vagueness, an incertainly about limits, but at the same time is strengthened by the occasional use of a strong line which introduces an element of surprise. The tiny bits of colour that make up a face can be put down on paper, hatched, even blended on the page, retaining their identity as discrete points of colour but also, together, making a portrait. The coloured and textured Ingres paper underneath suggests another layer, perhaps another aspect of the person that is hidden.