Back in 2020, the National Gallery of Australia launched Know My Name, an initiative designed to promote and platform the works of prominent but under-recognised Australian women artists.
Too many had gone under-appreciated for too long, the Kamberri/Canberra institution decided. It was time to make them household names!
The National Gallery has taken their commitment one step further, with a glorious new survey show of the Sydney-based artist’s life, unique practice and four-decades-long career.
Comprising more than 140 works from her childhood and professional practice, Cressida Campbell animates the life, work and influences of a luminous Australian artist.
Separated into thematic sections (still life, interiors, gardens, bushland and coastline), the exhibition starts with renderings of small domestic details and broadens outwards to capture the exquisite scenery of Sydney Harbour and beyond. Though her subject matter is seemingly ordinary, the power in her work lies in the specificity and attention paid to the little things that make up life.
‘She can find extraordinary beauty in mundane things that most of us overlook, like the shape of an electric chord, a grater, a little ice cream container of kitchen peelings… Details that the rest of us would just overlook,’ says exhibition curator Sarina Noordhuis-Fairfax.
‘I don’t know anyone else who makes work like this,’ says Sarina. ‘I haven’t come across any other artist who works uniquely between printmaking and painting. You can’t push her one way or another, her technique is completely idiosyncratic.’
With this in mind, Sarina wanted to use the exhibition as way to re-locate Cressida in her rightful place: firmly within an esteemed tradition of local and international artists.
‘She’s in this really long lineage of artists in Europe and Australia that work from direct experience. Her work is autobiographical and intimate but it is also rigorously composed and she has an astonishing command of colour,’ she says.
When describing Cressida’s stylised compositions, Sarina references Matisse; her use of colour is likened to Rembrandt; and her vivification of the mundane or domestic tableaux is compared to Margaret Preston.
Couple this bevy of international superstars with her original woodcut technique, and you have an electrifying display of a truly groundbreaking artist’s work.
Sarina also points out the singular luxury of curating a retrospective with a living artist: it becomes a collaboration! Cressida’s fingerprints are all over the exhibition (literally and figuratively), from the wall colours in different sections to the childhood drawings and early works from art school.
Archival works and documentary footage sit beside pieces sourced from private and public collections. Her quotes appear in audio guides and exhibition labels beside the paintings, making the exhibition a fluid and conversational experience. A personal one even!
‘It’s a comprehensive survey, but it’s very engaging because there are so many stories,’ says Sarina. The best kind of exhibition!
Cressida Campbell opens at the National Gallery Australia from 24 September 2022 to 19 February 2023. Tickets are available here.