Charles Campbell, a visual artist who was born in Jamaica, is the winner of the 2022 Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation for the Visual Arts VIVA Award, which brings with it a $15,000 grant. Campbell is a painter, sculptor, and performance artist based in Fernwood who has been working in multiple disciplines for some 30 years. At age 52, race and climate change are his current most critical motivations for creating his art.
In an interview with Vancouver Island Free Daily, Campbell noted that the world at this moment feels like “things are closing down,” adding that the world is living through an ecological tragedy and a segmentation of groups. He seeks to recapture the sense of possibility in the world through his art and help others to take a larger perspective. Campbell believes that his art involves capturing the experiences he and other Black people/radicalized people have and understanding how they can help everyone navigate the future. He said the history of Black people demanded that cultures be reinvented and that people move forward. He added that the history of slavery with its brutality and attempts to eliminate Black social structures and personhood required a type of “cultural ferment” that allowed people to “reconstruct” themselves.
Campbell moved with his family from Jamaica to Prince Edward Island when he was five years old. He wanted to reconnect with his Jamaican heritage, however, and moved back to the island after earning a degree in fine arts from Montreal’s Concordia University. His interest in issues of race and identity while in art school compelled him to reconnect to his “Jamaican-ness.” He remained in Jamaica for five years to pursue a master’s degree at Goldsmiths College in London and spent five years there. He then moved to Vancouver Island before returning to Jamaica again for another two years during which time he worked as the chief curator at the National Gallery of Jamaica.
His interest in Jamaican history, especially that of slavery and how its colonial past impacts the social dynamics and problems with the violence of the current day, and his art helps him to explore and expand these ideas. He is always asking himself, “How did we end up here?” He feels that, in Canada, facts like the nation’s foundation originating in the genocide of indigenous populations are “glossed over,” but in Jamaica, it is more difficult to pretend that its economic foundations were anything other than slavery.
His time at Goldsmiths introduced him to performance art, which brought more focus and attention to his commitment to depicting Caribbean history, which was too easily dismissed in his paintings. He continued painting while exploring performance and sculpture through a character from a Jamaica folk festival called “Jonkonnu.” He created a character called “Actor Boy” from a utopian future and had him ask “How did we get here.” The character began making objects, which then became Campbell’s sculpture practice. He portrayed the character in “Travels in Birdsong” on stage in PEI, with interactions with his sculpture a part of the performance. He also created “Time Catcher: The Fruiting of Chaos,” which is on permanent exhibit at Victoria International Airport.
While he has been making art for the past 30 years, Campbell said that his major success and recognition have only arrived within the past three or four years, and now he can make a living being a full-time artist.
Photo – Charles Campbell