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Oct 18, 2017
Coffee Talk with Peter Campbell

I wouldn’t be an artist if I was normal”

Peter Campbell, “Barn on 220,” Oil on Canvas, 24 x 24 inches

How did you get started as an artist?

I chose to be a painter because I was a visual artist, but if I thought in words, I would have written them down and saved myself the trouble of learning how to draw. I always loved painting, but it didn’t come easily to me like photography did. I actually spent a year trying to get a degree in music (classical guitar), but that didn’t work out.

At the Savannah College of Art and Graphic Design, where I received a degree in Photography after taking four years off, I would go to extra figure drawing classes even though I had no talent for drawing whatsoever—but I loved it. I spent about 7 to 8 years painting “in the closet.” I’d go to figure and portrait groups and paint there. If I’m interested in something– look out! I’ll go after it with anything I’ve got. I may learn it slow, but damn it, I’ll learn it!

How has your background in photography helped you paint?

We accept photographs as reality, but they really aren’t. Photography changes the values, colors, and distorts the perspective. While it’s the quickest way to “take a note,” I try to draw a sketch. We think we know what we are looking at, but our brain is lying to us on so many levels that we have no idea how many assumptions are being made. If you really want to see something, then you have to draw it, you have to paint it, because all of a sudden—you’re looking at everything.

In-Process Sketch by Peter Campbell

How have you taken the challenges of your profession and made them work for you?

My Drawing II teacher exposed my dyslexia more than anyone else had. It used to be that every time there was a line at an angle, I drew it wrong every time. I still have to stop and look and analyze “what’s wrong,” and it’s always the angle. This did, however, give me the ability to look critically at my own work.

What do you think sets artists apart?

I’ve learned that the best painters are the ones who can look at their own work like a viewer and make corrections—and that takes a conscious effort. You are not going to be an artist and will never push yourself enough to get anywhere if you are unwilling to accept failure. You need to be able to look at the mistakes and say, “what can I do different to make it happen?” And I still rely on that—I’m willing to make mistakes—I’ll still beat myself up—but I don’t beat myself up as hard as I used to.

Peter Campbell Painting in Colorado

What drew you west to Colorado?

I was living in Asheville, NC, still working for a photographer and had started painting. The thing I didn’t like about the East—everything is so dense and green, not a lot of open space.

My first trip to Colorado was to visit my brother. I thought, “I think I could paint here.” I skied on July 5th for the first time ever, and I moved out to Durango. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but a month later, I packed up and did it.

Been here 23 years.

Red Brick Plein Air Contest “Best in Show” Winner by Peter Campbell

Best of Show at the Aspen Red Brick Plein Air Event 3 years in a row! What’s your secret?

If I can see the painting in my head before I get started, it’ll be successful. I don’t have a methodology I start with every time. Every painting is different—it’s an uncomfortable way to live! No wonder I’m so grumpy. There has never been a plan (laughs). Just try to do the best you can do to the best of your ability.

Learn more about Peter Campbell and preview a selection of his works here. Works by Peter Campbell are on view in Out of the West: Landscapes through November 16th, 2017. 

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