Delicately poised between critique and tribute, Tammi Campbell’s paintings and drawings walk softly amid the modernist legacy of twentieth-century abstraction. Born in Calgary and raised in Moose Jaw, Campbell is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan (BFA 1999) and has attended artists’ workshops at Emma Lake (2001, 2003, 2007). In her experimental work, Campbell offers a feminist reading of modernist art history through an open-ended, material re-enactment of some foundational figures with historical connections to the development of modernist painting in Saskatchewan.
Monochrome with white paint and poly sheeting (2016) exemplifies her investigation of trompe l’oeil techniques in which the medium of acrylic paint takes on the physical appearance of materials from the artist’s studio. Building on previous simulations of masking tape and paper, her work references materials more typically associated with the wrapping and packing of paintings—bubble wrap, cardboard, packing tape, and, in this case, polyethylene plastic. This painting invites a range of responses, from curiosity about its fabrication, to a deeper consideration of the meaning of the artwork. The artwork presents wrapping as an act that signifies both potential and recapitulation: potential, in that a state of suspension is created as to what might be revealed, and recapitulation, in that each wrapped work symbolically conceals a predecessor in the lineage of modernist, monochrome paintings that led up to this point.
Another level of meaning is indicated through the printing (also simulated) on the surface of the poly wrapping, which reads: “GENERAL USE ACRYLIC POLYMER / MEDIUM DUTY 6 MIL 15/6 G13 MD.” Substituting “acrylic polymer” for “polyethylene,” Campbell identifies the material used in her simulated plastic wrap, and using “MD,” standing for “Marcel Duchamp,” she covertly references the complex status of her work as a simulated ready-made. On one final level, what protects a painting is now the painting itself, though in the form of a disguise or camouflage. The acrylic paint used to simulate packing materials is fragile, unable to withstand the rigours of contact with the everyday world. The body of paint, it turns out, is thin-skinned, unable to protect itself—and yet in this defencelessness lies a beauty. Through the simulation of materials, Campbell not only re-grounds abstract art in its materiality, but exposes the vulnerability of painting as an object in the world, creating fresh opportunities for empathetic identification and emotional engagement.
Timothy Long, Head Curator