Still life with electric fan
Japanese Hydrangeas
Margaret Olley interior
Eucalypt forest
Cressida Campbell installation view, 2022
Cressida Campbell at the Media Preview, 2022
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A celebration of one of Australia’s greatest living artists

National Gallery of Australia

In 2022, the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) celebrated its official fortieth anniversary with exhibitions that both reflect its past and look to the future. The gallery made a courageous decision in choosing to celebrate this milestone by acknowledging one of Australia’s most impressive living – and private of artists – Cressida Campbell. To mark the occasion, the NGA purchased one of her recent circular works, Bedroom Nocturne (2022), a still-life of the artist’s bedroom complete with rumpled sheets.

Works by the Sydney-based artist, now in her sixties, are sought by collectors worldwide. Yet to a certain degree, she has flown under the radar in Australia. That was until now.

Cressida Campbell’s creative process

The NGA’s exhibition brings together more than 140 works, many of which have been loaned from private collections. The result is both an extensive coverage of her unique compositions and also a wonderful glimpse into the artist’s life. It includes a video featuring Campbell talking about her creative process, in a room that also displays her childhood drawings and family photos. Pieces from the artist’s own collection of Asian ceramics, which feature prominently in many of her works, are displayed throughout the exhibition, which flows across a number of rooms, each focusing on key themes: the plants, interiors and moments that capture her eye.  

Perhaps what makes Campbell’s work less accessible is the complex nature of her chosen medium. The artist uses her own wood-block technique to create her paintings, etching the outlines of her initial drawing directly onto wood before painstakingly applying layers of paint. She then creates a single print from the painting, so that the wood rather than canvas-based painting becomes a twin of a second textured print. This technique means each print develops its own light and ethereal quality, since it is without the layers of paint she painstakingly applies to the woodblock original.

A great Australian artist

Rather than grand landscapes or wild splashes of paint, the artist focuses on flowers and objects that attract her attention, from the shapes and colours of the native vegetation along Sydney’s coastline, to things that surround her every day, such as a collection of objects in her kitchen (The Kitchen shelf, 2009), or a still-life in the form of a blue and white Chinese bowl with bright flowers common to many local gardens (Nasturtiums, 2002). In another work, the remains of a meal are left strewn across a table, while in another domestic “frozen moment” an iron with a dangling cord sits on an ironing board that is draped with an exotic fabric.

Cressida Campbell’s work does not make compromises. Her style is unique, and as the exhibition’s accompanying video and a series of young self-portraits attests, she has stayed determined to forge her own artistic path – one that does not define her as a contemporary female artist, but one that defines her as a great Australian artist.

Text Ingrid Piper / Photos courtesy of National Gallery of Australia and Ingrid Piper