Peter Campbell is a Durango-based painter who started his artistic career as a photographer, studying at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. The ideas for Campbell’s landscape oil paintings are often sparked by a fleeting glimpse that catches his eye and elicits an intimate and personal reaction to nature. Below, enjoy this insight from Peter Campbell on his process, intention, joy, and work.
Painting the landscape is somewhat an act of devotion. How many times have you seen some play of light on mountains, a river valley or cloud passages and took a photo only to find it didn’t capture what was there? The elements are there, but something is almost always missing. That missing thing is what I try to capture with painting, and I think that is what painting alone can do.
The dialogue between artist and canvas is unique for anyone who paints. The world at large, for any artist, has to be internalized and distilled to an essence, and that essence recreated. I paint many plein air pieces that are more literal, because I am capturing what I see in front of me, but large-scale pieces are more personal, painted from memory.
There are always, at a minimum, hints of what may be a particular place, but once the essentials of design are done, I work a lot like an abstract painter or color-field painter where the painting tells me where to go. It is like pulling a mood out of clay, which I find to be the most enjoyable part of painting.
A successful piece is one where the viewer says “yes, I know that kind of moment and here it is captured in paint.” A lot of detail can tell you where a painting may be but not have any emotive quality. And, likewise, something loosely interpreted can extract a feeling about a place without it being location-specific.
What generally sparks my interest is design and light. The instant I see something – like backlit clouds or light across the water – I immediately put a frame around it in my mind and start to compose. A small thumbnail sketch in three values can be more useful and emotive to work from than a detailed photograph. That says a lot about what painting can do. Every painting has its own path, and because I have various ways of working that conversation between artist and canvas, any given painting and mood is different.