What's on Los Angeles | Index

by Jody Zellen

June 24, 2021

Rebecca Campbell
Infinite Density, Infinite Light
LA Louver
May 24 - July 2, 2021

Rebecca Campbell

The radiant and complex paintings in Rebecca Campbell's exhibition Infinite Density, Infinite Light draw from the past, yet are very much about the present. They explore the nature of family, the freedom of being a child and the fragile nature of memory. Using found images including family snapshots and Polaroids, Campbell transforms isolated moments into stories about the people in her life-- be it her children or parents. Within each work, she uses different painting styles to create an evocative journey through her own history.

Although the exhibition is predominantly a show of paintings, Campbell also includes a sculptural installation in the center of the gallery that directs the interpretation of the other works. Titled To the One I Love the Best (2017), this mixed media piece consists of a collage of translucent silk banners suspended from copper piping. They contain enlarged reproductions of concert tickets, a Western Union Valentine's Day Telegram, hand written letters and other documents that span different periods in Campbell's family. Campbell explains, "Almost any narrative can be fabricated out of the open weave of light and dark, past and present, true and false, joy and tragedy of the multiplicitous histories. One generation lays their pictures, their text, and their experiences over the foundation of the last, privileged remnants are pulled through into focus and others let to fade, subsequent generations often choosing different narratives to strengthen or occlude."

In her paintings, Campbell often juxtaposes realistically rendered areas with looser, more abstracted brush strokes and thicker applications of paint. These gestural markings create a dream-like sensation that suggests the passage of time. This is most evident in Nature Boy (2021), a large painting of Campbell's son in a tree-filled woods. He wears a white t-shirt with red letters that spell the word LOVE and holds a single plant stem. Behind him is an inkling of a path that leads to a giant tree trunk painted abstractly with swirling strokes in a range of soft colors. Campbell's melange of styles enhances a narrative that weaves past and present, dream and reality. The setting is simultaneously peaceful and unsettling as the child's expression is one of defiance and awe.

In addition to lush wooded landscapes, images of Campbell's children also appear at the sea. In contrast, the paintings that depict the past are often interiors as in Bricks and Balloons (2020). This painting is based on a Polaroid photograph: Campbell renders the iconic fat top and bottom borders of the image with wide swaths of thick white paint. The scene appears to be a birthday or similar celebration as red and green balloons float in the background rising above the head of an older man who hugs two young girls seated in his lap. All appear to smile for the camera. While Campbell paints the clothing, background and balloons with a lifelike clarity, the three faces contain multicolored patches of blotchy paint. The aggressive handling of the painted faces and the fact that one of the girls' skin has a ghost-like glow takes an otherwise benign family snapshot into a new direction, perhaps suggesting other narratives.

Campbell is a master at conflating different styles and applications of paint. The melding of techniques is pushed to extremes in To Have and to Hold (2019). Here, Campbell begins with a prom photograph from the 1960s or 1970s that features a fancily dressed boy in a blue patterned dress-jacket with a black bow tie. On the left where his date would be situated is a DeKooning-style painting of a woman. Whoever she was has been overpainted by abstract expressionist brushstrokes obliterating all but a hidden smile. In Vanta Envy (2020) Campbell similarly interrupts the narrative— a woman seated on a chair in a den or living room holding what is presumed to be a large wrapped present in her lap — by painting the rectangular shape a deep dark black and turning it into an unsettling void. Trevin (2018), also brings together disparate styles. Here, a blond-haired boy wearing a white button-down shirt and khaki pants dissolves into a patchwork background of Scotch plaids.

The paintings in Infinite Density, Infinite Light challenge the idea that there is a straightforward narrative about family: children growing into adults, having children of their own and negotiating the wonders of life. While Campbell depicts her subjects with compassion, at times she places them in potentially ambiguous situations interrupting what is represented in the original photographs with an abstract overpainting that suggests a divergent trajectory. In this exhibition, Campbell invites viewers to bear witness to her personal journey, while simultaneously suggesting it could resonate universally.