For her first show, who dis, at Western Exhibitions, Jessica Campbell presents a new series of carpet paintings tackling her (and our) obsession with smart phones. Campbell did not acquire a cell phone until 2013. Since then she’s grappled with how this now ubiquitous device has changed her life and how it has altered the way our society functions. The paintings (collaged-together carpet remnants) depict specific narratives: a cabbie watching porn while he drives; a bikini selfie on a broken phone screen; Campbell watching a movie on a phone while on a StairMaster at the gym. Often using comedic tropes as her subject matter, Campbell sees humour as a tool to help her process what is happening in the world. In an interview (excerpted below) with Amy Lockhart that will be available in full at the gallery and on our website, Campbell relays that “I’ve been reconsidering past events in my life that were traumatic that I’ve now mentally recast as funny. Humour can make some trauma bearable.”
The show opens with a free reception on Friday, April 13 from 5 to 8 and runs through May 26. On May 26 at 5pm, the gallery will host a book release/book signing party for Jessica Campbell’s new graphic novel, XTC69, available for pre-order on Amazon. Campbell will do a short reading to kick off the event.
Preview in Chicago Magazine
Selected excerpts from an interview commissioned by the gallery with the filmmaker, animator, artist and long-time friend Amy Lockhart:
Amy Lockhart: I know you as a hilarious performance artist, comic artist and political illustrator as well as gallery artist. How do these different mediums intersect and inform each other?
Jessica Campbell: There are a few consistent threads that run throughout all of it: humour, drawing, feminism, adolescence, autobiography. While I was in grad school, an advisory suggested that I find a way of connecting the comics and the studio works, which I tried to accomplish by stripping the colour out of my drawings so that they had more of a relationship with underground/independent comics that are commonly black-and-white. I ultimately decided that I was fine with heterogeneity. People are complex and have contradictory characteristics, and a diverse body of work can reflect that. My voice and my hand, both of which leave a particular kind of mark, act as unifying principles.
How did you start using carpet as a painting medium?
Right after grad school, I made a piece called Teen Bedroom, a staging of my fictitious teenage bedroom that featured a big poster of a naked man reading a book and two magazines called Ladies Humour Journal sitting atop a rug with a brick wall pattern. I had been thinking a lot about stand-up comedy, which I see as a bizarre and contradictory expression of vulnerability and control: the comedian is alone on a stage with nothing but a mic and her body, but holds the attention of the audience and is in control of what she exposes or keeps hidden, which felt related to the vulnerability and control of adolescence. Bricks, in part, act as shorthand for this experience, referencing the exposed brick comedy club wall. Putting this motif on the ground created a space for “lie down comedy,” the experience of being depressed and prostrate on the floor, and writing jokes as a coping mechanism. That’s a universal experience, right?? Gulp.
Why carpet? Why apply it to canvasses that resemble paintings? (i.e. reference codes/conventions of painting)
After a year or so of making brick carpets that went on the floor, I wanted to produce a more complex image out of the same material. I made some abs out of carpet, and then a portrait based on this terrifying mask I got at Goodwill that sends electrical shocks in to your face to, um … keep it youthful? I had an exhibition coming up where I had initially proposed putting works on the floor, but the gallery had flooding problems so I needed to re-think the work. I consider the carpets as paintings (indeed, many of them include glimpses of the painted surface underneath) that also are inextricably linked to latch hook weavings. I love making art in this era because I feel very able to pull from whatever disparate areas I’d like and, while those references remain evident (technology, craft traditions, autobiography); the blurring of high/low art does not need to be the subject of the work, because those divisions are no longer relevant or current.
How does craft function in your practice? The use of shag carpet collage makes me recall of the work of artists such as Allyson Mitchell and Michael Mahalchick. These artists have ties to maximalism, feminism, and filth. Do you? If so how so? If not how not? More specifically I am thinking of how they attack the pretenses of good taste – especially in relation to institutionalized racism and classism (i.e. Chromophobia). Also the visceral nature of the carpet, the visceral nature of humour (makes your body laugh – makes your body move) makes me think of Mahalchick’s work and how it is body centric in our culture that seems to want to deny the body (it’s realness, ugliness, humanness).
Yes, Allyson Mitchell is a huge influence, for sure. I saw her show at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art in Toronto in 2006, which was full of these giant lesbian yeti creatures made out of fur, and a room lined with carpeted walls and crocheted blankets, and latch hook weavings. It all felt like it had been unearthed from some filthy and forgotten 70s basement family room. I had a similar experience after I moved to Chicago and visited The House on the Rock during a trip to Wisconsin and touched a burgundy carpeted wall that was, for some reason, soaking wet. It was a bit thrilling, but also disgusting, and very visceral.
Read the full answer to the last question AND the entire interview here: Interview_Jessica_Campbell.pdf
JESSICA CAMPBELL is a Canadian artist and humourist based in Chicago, working in comics, fibres, painting, drawing and performance. Her book Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists was published by Koyama Press in 2016. She’s had solo and two-person in Chicago at Roots & Culture and Sub-Mission and at La Galerie Laroche/Joncas in Montreal; and has been included in group shows throughout the Midwest and Quebec, including moniquemeloche in Chicago. Her new graphic novel, XTC69, is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released in May 2018.