Exhibition Review: Terry Campbell “No Longer in My Hand”

Alicia Baca

ARTH 3539-001

Kira Van Lil

BMoCA at Macky: Terry Campbell “No Longer in My Hand”

For this final exhibition paper I decided to visit the mini-exhibition that was being put on by the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art in collaboration with the gallery at Macky Auditorium on the University of Colorado at Boulder campus. The exhibition that they are currently showing is “No Longer in My Hand”, a series of oil paintings by local Denver artist, Terry Campbell. The exhibition itself was quite small and only consisted of five pieces total. However, these pieces were all very large in size. What was interesting was that the majority of the works seemed to all be portraits and it was a little confusing as to what to make of them after mulling over the title of the exhibition. However, after a good deal of browsing, analyzing, outside research, and interpretation, the exhibition began to come together.

Aside form the description that BMoCA had provided at the beginning of the exhibition, I decided to take a look at the artist’s personal website later on. He also mentioned how the portraits that he painted were all of his friends and family members, but he also mentioned that he wanted to put them in situations that one would never see them in. He also mentioned that he does not feel the need to give the viewer the story behind the piece because he believes that their interpretation is just as important as the real story behind it. With that being said, I decided to see how I interpreted these pieces without a backstory.

There were two pieces in the exhibit that caught my interest immediately. The first of them being “Path”. The title of the piece is a clear indication of what this piece is about. It is about someone who is unsure about the path they have chosen in life. In this case, the subject has chosen the path of being an artist, which is easily determined as he is holding a paintbrush in his hand. This painting is incredibly somber in its content, but clearly reflects an artist that is down on his luck. The subjects face shows clear self doubt and it looks as though her is questioning himself. Is he good enough? Why has he not been able to be put in any exhibitions? Is he not cut out to be an artist? Was this pursuit of his passion a complete and utter waste of his time and energy? There are so many questions that I can see running through this man’s mind, even if his eyes, where I personally think the true state of emotional being is seen, is mostly obscured.

However, everything, aside from the subjects face, is painted simply and is almost like that of a primitivist style. Regardless of this simplicity, they do not take away from the somber mood of the painting. The dark hues and shadows further this sense of darkness, obscurity, and uncertainty that is present within the mind of the subject. The setting also seems crowed, claustrophobic even, as if the subject’s mind is so overrun with thoughts that he has no room to breathe.

The other painting in the exhibition that I was throughly impressed with was “Waiting for Life to Take Over”. The two figures in the painting are a male, who is standing in what looks to be a somewhat uncomfortable position, and a woman who is sitting next to him, but whose gaze and posture give off the air that she does not want to acknowledge the presence of the man standing next to her. Again, as in all of Campbell’s other paintings, the faces and hands are the main focuses of this painting and are the aspects that tell the story behind this work. The colors are also, again, dark, muted, and somber.

There is a strong atmosphere of tension throughout the painting. It almost seems as if the man has wronged the woman somehow and she is contemplating what to do about the situation. I almost want to say that the pair is a married couple or at the very least a couple that have been involved in a intimate relationship with each other for a long period of time. However, given the postures and expressions of the subjects, it seems as though an event that could very well end this relationship has occurred. The man looks so uncomfortable, and as his eyes glance towards the woman, he looks as if he is looking for some sort of closure from her. The woman on the other hand, looks deep in thought, as if she does not know what to do about the issue that her and this man are having. They both seem to be waiting for something, whether its a response or an answer to the problem at hand. There’s an air of suspense, a sense of waiting for something to happen, or as the painting so aptly puts it, “Waiting for Life to Take Over”.

The final painting of Campbell’s that I want to analyze was not actually in the exhibition, but on his website. While I clearly was not able to see the piece, “Desired Skills” up close in person, there was something about it that just caught my eye. The portrait is a rather strange one in all honesty. The scene shows a doctor, with a rather teasing expression, operating on a smiling patient, who is appears to be fully conscious of what is going on. The lighting in the piece is coming from above and their positioning seems be set somewhat higher, as if you are looking at the subjects from below.

What I find most intriguing about this painting is that it almost seems dream like rather than an actual memory. For one, you would never see a patient awake before a doctor operate on him. But its the expressions of the patient and doctor that get me. Their expressions seem to tease the viewer, as if they wanted to say “You wish you had this job” or “You wish you had the finances to pay for decent surgery”. The way I see this scene, it is as if the artist is reflecting on the fact that maybe his family or someone he knows looks down on his profession because it is not a financially stable one. This painting to me is one that also shows the artist’s struggle to prove themselves to others in the world. They constantly run into opposition that judges the path they have chosen in life. Even art historians run into this opposition as well and I feel that the reason why this piece intrigued me so much was that I could relate to it on a personal level. There are many who think that those who earn degrees in fine arts an art history are lazy and have chosen a worthless path in life and place themselves above us, much like the doctor and patient are placed ever so slightly above the viewer in this painting.

Overall, I found to be so interesting about this artists works was his attention to detail, but that it was only exhibited in certain parts of his paintings. In all of his piece the two areas of the human body that received the most attention were the face and the hands. Everything else was painted so simply to the point that it made the painting look unfinished. Another interesting quality of his work was that the colors are very muted, somber, and almost dim. Considering that the artist is wanting to reflect on moments of the past, he uses this “fuzzy” and “hazy” quality of his painting style very well. It makes the paintings seem even more like a flashback to a moment in the past.

Another aspect about his works that was also interesting was the use of strong lighting and shadows. This reinforced the emotions in the painting more and made the facial expressions of the subjects even more easy to read. It works quite well with the artist’s desire to recall events and to reflect on the nostalgia or pain that those memories might bring. The darkness of all these pieces just create this unavoidable atmosphere of pain and loss when you look at his pieces, and while it adds to the sadness of the works, it makes them all the more beautiful to look at, analyze, and interpret.

I interpreted this exhibition as a whole as something related to nostalgia and reflecting back on something that is, as the title of the exhibition says, is no longer in ones hands. And as the description of the exhibition read, even though these portraits are mostly of his friends and relatives Campbell “regards these works as self-portraits, documenting his own emotions and memories of specific situations.” And what is interesting is that you can see how this artist relates to the emotions in these pieces on a personal level. While the faces on the canvases may not be his own, there seems to be a bond between the artist and the situation on the canvas, as if he has experienced himself before and knows the situation so well that he can capture every emotional detail perfectly.  However, I would not say any of these pieces were reflecting on happy nostalgia. The expressions and situations in all of these paintings held some sort of feeling of regret or guilt to them.

Through all of this interpretation and researching the artist’s thoughts on his own work, the meaning of this exhibition became clear to me. The situations depicted in the paintings in this exhibition were all ones that were no longer in his hands. While Campbell’s painting show pain in this nostalgia the pain, or at least the emotional scars form these situations would never completely fade. I feel that he wanted to show us that no matter how much you reflect on a past situation or memory, it is completely out of our hands and that we have to let it go, no matter how it may hurt to reflect on it or not matter how much we wish we could change the past.

Overall, I was very impressed by this exhibit. While it was indeed very small, the artist’s skills made up for the small gallery space completely. While there are certainly other artists who can capture emotion through much more abstract means, it is good to see that there are still contemporary artists who can still master the technique in capturing the emotional state of a human being through their body language and the expression on their face. Terry Campbell is certainly a master of depicting emotions in his pieces, using lighting and color to their full advantages, and I do look forward to seeing what he produces in the future.

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