Two David Campbell Pieces For the Price of Meaningful Art History

CampbellToledoLow
Print by David Campbell: Toledo 1964. 28 x 22″

On Saturday I visited an estate sale a few doors up the road and discovered two works by David Campbell, professor of art at the State Teacher’s College at Oswego, and colleague to Roy Lichtenstein from 1957 to 1960.  A signed print (48/49), titled Toledo, and a lithograph, titled Loch Ness, both from 1964. On Toledo, the owners cut the signature, date and print run and pasted it on the back to fit the frame. I am thrilled by this great luck. I shall auction Toledo off at the Lichtenstein exhibition in October. All sales from this and my paintings will go to a one time local high school senior enrolled at SUNY Oswego, and intending to major in art history or studio art. The Tyler arts building is going through its second stage of renovation and this will give something back to a place that has been a mentor house for my family for thirty years.

David Campbell is a fine painter. He has a website and prints available for those Oswego affiliations who wish to be as lucky as me. The bulk of art history is lost to the cult of celebrity. Roy was no dummy. He must have known his fame and fortune was lottery-like luck. No one passes through Oswego without humility. Van Morrison has mentioned time and again that his world recognition, and wealth stemming from it, is owed to his early departure from obscurity. He left the small town for the big city, and never looked back.

That is brave, but it isn’t art. Art is work, and like Van Morrison, Roy got recognition in a busy city and then worked very hard to keep it.

To me it always seems like unnecessary struggle, often making a circus or a brand out of a person. To please myself is a daily exercise sweating determination and will power. I cannot imagine any sanity found needing to please an entire world.

This discovery of David Campbell work hanging on lower middle class walls next door in small town, 2019 is true art history because it touches my own story in some real way, far beyond fame and money. No one really wants to possess a painting by Lichtenstein for any other reason besides fame and money—whether that be a museum or a mountebank. No one besides members of his family, friends, descendants, subjective hobbyists and connoisseurs, and the occasional historian who feels the need to tell a story, without all the wild speculation and false promotion, should be interested in another person’s art. A museum can hold paintings if they have contributed towards the uplifting (or degeneracy) of civilizations. However, art movements are never art history if promotion was the only reason for their coming to recognition. That’s art marketing, and mostly an industrial invention.

Leo Castelli was a rich art marketer in 1962. Larry Gagosian is one today, and Christies and Sotheby’s, Inc. are the banks of lies. None of it is art like David Campbell is art, yet to express this more clearly, I’ll need another 35 pages of time.

You can buy the book at the opening on October 11th, 2019.

CampbellToledoBackLow
Backside of “Toledo”. Buyers cut out signature and pasted it on back.

CampbellLochLow

sheldon1959
Sheldon hall (“Old Main”), from Washington Blvd.
gregorystreet
Sheldon Hall from estate sale.
1960 faculty photo
Roy, David and other wonderful people.
DavidCampbellLow
My painting: David Campbell Painted “Lewis Bluff” in 1958, and Roy Lichtenstein Did Not 2019. Acrylic on paper, 15 x 23″

Roy Lichtenstein and Vernon Tryon Share a Stink

Splinter
Looking north through Splinter Village at Oswego State Teacher’s College, 1959.

This 1959 photograph shows temporary buildings that were constructed at the end of World War II, and used initially for housing to accommodate the influx of returning G.I.’s, and then as classrooms when enrollment went back to normal levels. They were called “Splinter Village”. Roy Lichtenstein shared one of theses boxes with Industrial Design professor Vernon Tryon. I met the latter last Tuesday afternoon in a local restaurant. He told me a story about the time an animal died under their classrooms and it smelled real bad.

The students used to ask, What is that stink, Professor Tryon?” I broke into Vernon’s reminiscing to quip, “Probably Roy’s ambition”.

 

Cosmic Pineapple Coolatta Large, 120 Grams of Sugar

DDLow
2019. Oil on canvas, 40 x 50″

The American Heart Association limits sugar intake for children between 12 – 24 grams per day. The corporate leadership at Dunkin’ Donuts thinks that, at 120 grams of sucrose, this cosmic happy drink to outer space will take thoughts away from the methodic and very lazy filicide that is happening across the United States. I hate Dunkin’ Donuts, more so since its crazies have opened the gate to psychpath for parents who once cared if their children got premature diabetes. Duncan Devilnuts and his/her apologists are yucky bad.

In 1958, Miss Frances Oler Did Not Frequent the Opportunities Offered to the Art Department Boys Club

FrancesOlerLow
2019. Acrylic on paper, 19 x 25″

Frances Oler is seated in the 1958 art faculty photo for the yearbook. She was allowed to teach future teachers how to teach art to elementary school children. Cans of safety scissors, crayons, and dream potential squashed because she peed sitting down.

This painting is how Roy and the other boys probably saw her in the flesh.

Roy1958Faculty

Roy Was So Jealous of Harvey Harris Because He Went to Yale and Looked Like It

HarveyharrisLow
2019. Open Acrylic (Golden Paint) on paper, 17 x 21″

Harvey Sherman Harris (1915 – 1999) was a painter and teaching colleague of Roy Lichtenstein at Oswego State. I imagine professional jealousy was a persistent worm in the minds of artists in 1958 as it is today. I think that’s because artists in America think individually (at times) that they are great with verve and originality—better than the rest even—when really, what they’re privately pining for is an Elvis Presley fame with a Wayne Newton effort at expression. Truth is, everyone is free to achieve the inner peace and realization that there was only one John Coltrane, and we all should be happy enough with that satori, making things and drinking beer.

Roy1959

I Learned More About Lichtenstein in One Hour at Williams College Sawyer Library Than I Have in Four Months Researching in a Town Where He Taught and Lived

RoyConfusionLow
In 1958, Lichtenstein Must Have Felt Like This: Painting Abstract, Then 18th century Native, Then What, And Who Will Care? 2019. Oil on canvas, 20 x 16″

This week my family visited beautiful Berkshire Williamstown and I stopped in the Sawyer Library at Williams College to see what it held on Roy Lichtenstein. I walked up and down the pristine Dewey decimal rows and grabbed a few books down from the shelves. I was prepared for the usual pinpointing of everything unimportant to the artist in 300 pages of big words and thousands of hours of time wasted on attempts to define the undefinable. I pray one day I open to a page in one of these esoteric tomes of mumbo-jumbo, and get a sense that the author is(was) a human like me. The rise and popularity of celebrity modern art and its history follows a predictable pattern. Youth, geography, and connection are the markers used to pin each artist on the value scale. The published art writers (socialists usually) act as scribes to the priestly class of capitalists who make(made) a set number of image-makers into commodities worth trading in a tuxedo auction house. Who publishes these books, over and over again, for coffee tables and multi-million dollar libraries? And why?

I was ready to flip through the stack and find no mention of Roy in Oswego, which would have confirmed my bias that the majority of PhD art historians unwittingly prop up the valuable expression of the artist with agonizing page after page of subjective interpretation. Detailed abstractions on art to uplift the offshore accounts of Christies, Inc., Larry Gagosian, and other gross millionaires and billionaires slamming the door shut on the eager studio art students ready to earn their place on library shelves of the future. I was going to add it to my book as a side theme proving my hypothesis that art historians pay much less attention to the biography of the artist than they ought to. As if an American Civil War historian found it more interesting to write ten pages interpreting the Gettysburg Address and made no mention of Lincoln’s dreadful thoughts on the battle of Gettysburg. Life happens to human beings and some make the effort to express themselves. Art history often lacks the life story of the artist, which is why I believe a few of the books I flipped through at the library were crisp and new and never opened after the Williams College stamp was pressed.

All the books kept to the pattern, except two. One, which critiqued Lictenstein’s pre-pop (early 1950’s) paintings of Native Americans out west, and another book of essays, with one by Avis Berman, which, unlike any I have read thus far, actually makes an effort to understand the world of Roy Lichtenstein in Oswego. I spent half my research time copying a piece of the essay word for word, upside down-left-handed with a leaky pen, until I realized I could use my wife’s smartphone to take a picture of the pages and copy later. I quote pieces of my copy from the Berman essay in Roy Lichtenstein: All About Art:

“Isabel did not leave Cleveland willingly.”

“There were three new faculty members to the art department in 1957. David Campbell, Harvey Harris, and Bruce Breland.”

Bruce Breland: ” Roy was very popular with them (the students). They liked him because he wasn’t dealing with art as a mystery. He was dealing with art in the present, and they could understand that. Here’s how you make it.”

Bruce Breland: “He didn’t spend a lot of time speaking art history speak, he spent a lot of time with, ‘How does this go together? And how does this come apart?’ He was constantly think up different kinds of what he called ‘art marks’. ‘Art marks’ was a term I heard a good bit of. That impressed me because I never thought of the words ‘art mark’. Art that comes directly from ‘every mark you make modifies what you already know,’ from the old teacher.”

Roy re-introduced the “Flash Room” to SUNY Oswego students.

Bruce Breland: “He taught two-dimensional design, which turned into a flash room. He even had a machine that he converted to a kinesthescope, which is a strobe that flashes, and the shutter goes at a twentieth of a second, or something like that. The idea behind that is that when you see something high contrast, fast… and it’s very bright, there is a long afterimage, and you draw the after-image.

That was the whole thing—what’s going on… in the head. We carry around images in our head, and we can draw from these. Every mark modifies what you already know. There’s almost a catechism with it. I was taken with that. So Roy and I were just great conversationalists with each other. We tended to reinforce.”

 

 

 

 

As An Amateur Art Historian and Gossip, I Believe Fame Took Its Toll On Roy Lichtenstein, And Nobodyness Kept Carolyn Blish’s Ease of Living In Tact

ClevelandHouseLow
2019. Oil on board over image by Carolyn Blish ’68, 35 x 24″

The best history story about Lichtenstein happens in 1957, five years before his ascension to international fame and small fortune. During that fateful year the Lichtensteins bought their first house in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. A mini-palace in a land of beautiful houses. Six bedrooms, a few baths. Isabel might have been employed still as assistant interior decorator at Jane L. Hansen, Inc., however, doubtful while shouldering responsibilities of two preschool boys. The younger Mitchell, not yet a year on earth.

Roy never kept a job for more than 6 months during the bulk of the decade, and his new job as engineering draftsman making furniture for the Republic Steel Company was work, but not work that could afford a 1950’s down payment on an upper middle class property.

Was their a recent inheritance? Something to look into.

But the big question is why, in August of the same year, did Roy take a job as assistant professor at Oswego State Teacher’s College 350 miles away from his new home? The family rented an apartment in a duplex at 11 West 6th Street before the start of the Fall semester.

What a year of tumult, for better or worse. Things must have been pretty desperate on some level for such a drastic uprooting. Perhaps frantic. Eight paintings produced during the whole year. Eight paintings that took no time away from a harried move. Rushed work. Lazy work. Stolen hours’ work.

At 34 years old, I believe Roy was settling in for the duration. Baby boys, a wife who had always supported him… He didn’t make this move to “get closer to the NY art scene”. So many historians make the claim in their usual paragraph (maybe two) written on the most significant change in the artist’s life to that point in time. Obviously, none have made the trip to Oswego, nor thought much about being an unknown painter in the American year, 1957.

Everything that happened then created what was to come.

In the painting above, Roy and Isabel appear to be dancing. Both figures are copied from paintings he made in 1952. The house and address take you to the grounded reality of their lives, and no thing at that moment in time had the power to predict a future Elvis Presley fame in an international art world.

Babies need to be fed. Rents and mortgages must get paid. At a starting salary of $6,300/year, Roy was well on his way to surviving barely in a cruel world.