Rebecca Campbell: Romancing the Apocalypse
45 North Venice Boulevard
Venice, California 90291
10 March through 16 April 2011
It’s like porn. Not pornography. Porn. Not in the sense of filth, denigration, or voyeurism. More like one might say in that jaunty, wryly ironic, hipster sort of way that such-and-such a blog or TV channel is food-porn, or shoe-porn, or war-porn. In the sense that it’s a pure distillation of advanced pleasure-taking, reduced to its deconstructed essence of desire that goes straight to the heart of sensory satisfaction and give form to a million private definitions of perfect beauty. Rebecca Campbell’s art is paint-porn.
Her brush strokes are as thick as cream frosting (this becomes important later) and they reveal and conceal like a vaudeville striptease with the emphasis on tease — titillating, provoking, and seducing; the anticipation and the deliberate ambiguity are a form of flirtation. This is especially true of the Boom series, except the billows are mushroom clouds, not feathered fans. If you narrow your eyes, you can almost see the dancer and her feminine distractions gyrating to the syncopated beat of pulsating umber, black, and hot yellow behind those dreamy white floating covers.
In the Beauty series, the arabesque tendrils are of long hair and flowering vines, not twirling satin cocktail gloves pulled off by teeth without leaving a trace of blood-red lipstick. But the swells of taut fabric across star-power cleavage are simply what they are, no more or less. What else do breasts that supple and tempting need to mean? They are archetypes. They are the subtext writ large. It’s almost too beautiful, your teeth could rot just looking at them. Between these extremes of pretty girls and atom bombs are rainbows — things of beauty and myth and aspiration and purity that only appear after a rain storm, and fireworks — elegant, flower-like, crowd-pleasing spectacles, part smoke and mystery, and part fiery explosion, and with a long history of causing accidental carnage. Exceptional beauty is often dangerous.
The exhibition’s title reflects humanity’s twin obsessions with sex and death. And also dessert. The eponymous painting, one of the largest in the exhibition, is the most overt clue to the allegorical underpinning of the whole exercise. It depicts a grown woman in full hair, make-up, and party attire, sitting in a bathtub holding a cake in her lap, staring forlornly ahead. These are not surreal juxtapositions, merely unlikely, and could be ironic or even a cry for help. The full story of the show is told not only in titles, but in Campbell’s brushwork, which remains consistent in its muscular, reckless looseness across her spectrum of such seemingly disparate subjects. The moral of the story is that paradox is indemic to the human condition; and art has the quasi-magical power to our existential dilemmas within the alternate universes it creates. But sometimes even pretty girls just break down and eat entire frosted cakes alone in bathtubs. It’s okay. It happens to everyone.
Rebecca Campbell, Beauty 6 and 5, 2011
Oil on canvas, diptych, each: 12 x 20 in. (30.5 x 50.8 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and LA Louver
Rebecca Campbell, Romancing the Apocalypse, 2011
oil on canvas, 48 x 96 in. (121.9 x 243.8 cm)
Courtesy of the artist and LA Louver
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for WhiteHot Magazine, Arts Editor for Vs. Magazine, Contributing Editor to Art Ltd., and a contributor to the LA Weekly, Flaunt, Huffington Post, Palm Springs Life, and KCET’s Artbound. She studied Art History at Vassar College, curates one or two exhibitions a year, and speaks in public with alarming frequency. An account of her activities is sometimes updated at sndx.net.view all articles from this author