One of Melbourne’s foremost artists, Jon Campbell is heavily influenced by a "lefty, westie, working-class view", fusing together art, music, national identity and popular culture. Campbell’s current solo exhibition, Bewdyful, is a continuation of his exploration of suburban Australia and its unique vernacular. Blazing with punchy phrases and cheeky one-liners, the glossy finish of enamel paint on plywood evokes a strong pop aesthetic.
The luminous and colourful phrases are painted in Campbell’s hand-crafted font. Some works channel the slick veneer of advertising, whilst others are more along the lines of hasty signage or graffiti. They range from listing the band members of Crazy Horse, framed by a border of sunny yellow spray paint, to the poignantly simple Sad Times, a lonely little phrase almost engulfed by its grey background.
A personal favourite is the humorous catch phrase typically uttered by the bigoted 60-something, I’m not racist, but... a sly poke at Australia's xenophobia and condition of self-denial. There are also loud suburban moments as represented by Friday Night Dilemma, featuring the words ‘Fish and Chips or Pizza?’, as if directly plucked from the living room banter of blue-collar Australia.
It is as though an animated verbal exchange is taking place in the gallery space. The overall atmosphere of the exhibition is joyous and upbeat; though some of his works may be boisterous, they are never mean-spirited.
There is also a musical sensibility imbued in Campbell’s practice. Paying homage to Bob Dylan, he has been known to replicate the iconic ‘cue-card’ routine both in painting and performance. These music-based acknowledgements are endowed with cultural codes and attitudes. His works, laden with nostalgia, are manifestations of a generation, a sub-culture, a time and place.
What comes out of Campbell’s paintings is the visceral feeling of a sun-scorched afternoon filled with backyard boozing. Unlike the blatancy of an Australia Day parade, Campbell’s brand of patriotism resides in the unassuming Australian backyard, equipped with a stubby holder and cricket bat.
You might have also heard about the Jon Campbell art tram that was recently unveiled as part of the Melbourne Art Fair. Dressing up the old burgundy and gold with a lurid pop overcoat, it is one of a handful of mobile murals that will be rolling around the city for the next six months.