I have been observing Wayne Campbell make art for 47 years, since we were students together at the University of California at Berkeley. Wayne began his art career making sculpture. He would fabricate large pieces that both defined space and, at the same time, limited the observers interaction with it.
An early example from 1966 was a fiberglass pyramid 6 1/2 feet square but only 4 inches high. The pattern of a traditional wood floor was embossed into the translucent fiberglass. Sitting directly on the floor of a gallery, it gave the perception of a room without walls, but a "room" that could not be entered. From the same year, "floor / door space" was a simulated wood floor in the shape created by the opening of a door, somewhat like a fan. At only 1/4 inch high, this piece, without the door, sat on the floor against a wall. The shape, taken from its context, had a puzzling familiarity.
1969 saw an attempt to diminish the object even more. A grid of picture framing glass placed side by side on the gallery floor filled in a ten foot square space. The "sculpture" was emptied of the object with only the perception of a shiny reflective surface remaining on top of the existing floor. The second piece from that year had a simple idea: To make a non-contained form, eliminate the container. In this case, five gallons of oil was poured directly onto the floor of a gallery covering over half of the space. This created a large 15 x 25 foot shiny organic shape in a strange yellowish brown color over the surface that had been painted a very pale shade of pink. Gravity and the uneven concrete floor surface resulted in a somewhat uncontrolled shape.
In these four pieces the idea of minimal art was taken to an extreme. Not only was the pedestal eliminated and the piece placed directly on the floor, but as much as possible the "object" was also minimized to almost not being there. Yet, space was as restricted as if a monument had been placed in the gallery.
In 1971 the first "chair piece" was conceived in the form of a counting out rhyme. These rhymes are used by children as a process of elimination within a group, determining who would end up being "it" in, for instance, a game of tag. Twenty folding chairs (sometimes altered structures) with canvas slip covers over their backs, the chair back as stretcher bar, had these words painted on them, one word to a chair.
Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo
Catch an artist by the toe,
If he hollers let him go,
Eeny, Meeny, Miney, Mo
At the same time drawings were made using the idea of sequence and elimination. A shape, a word or an image was tumbled or variously taken through its progressive phases, such as a moon seen from day to day over a period of a month. A related chair piece from 1974 was BOW WOW containing 28 folding chairs in a circle. The moon drawings on round shaped canvas slip covers were overlaid with the words "bow wow" that slowly tumbled 360 degrees around. The large empty space created by the enclosed circle of chairs resonated with the sound of a dog barking at the moon.
Chair pieces in the 1970's and into the 1980's would all be composed of 30 to 40 folding chairs with their shaped canvas slip covers. Other words were superimposed over an abstraction of a related image. The sound of a duck, QUACK QUACK, was paired with the image of a flower garden. Or the sound of a small dense object dropped into deep water, BLOOP, was paired with a mechanical like image, but painted in bright pinks and reds. The chairs were pushed together into a chaotic but tightly bunched group for any particular sculpture.
All these pieces would take up a lot of space and restrict access in a manner similar to the "oil on the floor" piece. The folding chair is a common object which carries a connotation of the figure but when empty it is about the absence of that person. As large groups of chairs, there were references to an implied audience, the props of an event or maybe a happening, but always ultimately inaccessible and, it seems to me, lonely.
The 1990's saw a shift of some of the painted slip covers onto the wall where they became shaped canvases as extensions of the free standing chair / slip cover units. In contrast to the three dimensional half of the piece, the canvas was tacked to the wall like a skin without a stretcher bar. A piece from 1997, BUTTERFLIES / AGGRESSION has the image of a set of butterfly wings. One wing was painted over ten slip covers supported by ten folding chairs. This is matched by an equal amount of canvas on the wall painted with the opposing wing. The menacing appearance of the piece lives up to its title.
RED FLYER ABUSE, 1997, uses the image of a child's wagon that is pulled and distorted in two directions, Based on an incorrect memory of this childhood toy, the real and the fantasized were reconciled into a split image of the wagon that is tacked to the wall. The handles of these wagons are painted large in slip cover fashion and extend into the room.
The earliest piece in the current show, AT SEA, 1998, is titled with an expression that means lost or without direction. The balancing of this huge image of a boat in rough seas on top of a chair sets up tensions and unbalances the viewer. The one chair acts as a stand in for the viewer as the solo passenger in the boat. Art that engages you, whether on the visual or conceptual level, has always been Wayne's goal. Adding stretcher bars to the wall canvases in the present show does not change his intentions. It only seems to create more opportunities.
[Essay by Richard S, Canter, New York City, NY.]