Tim Campbell Finds Laughs in the Past

Campbell repaints the past with a touch of humor



If Grandma Moses and Pablo Picasso had a child, then it would probably look like the stylized portraits created by folk artist Tim Campbell of Keene.

Campbell is inspired by colonial portraits with their flattened dimensions and stern attitudes. He mimics the historic postures of the past, but each face has that touch of Picasso in the eyes. He’s done Washington and Lincoln, each with a bit of grim whimsy. Stepping back farther in time, Campbell has “Campbellized,” as he says, Byzantine religious icons with portraits of Saint Gertrude and Saint Theodosia, each with a proper gilt background, hand postures and those sly eyes.

As an outsider artist like Grandma Moses, Campbell finds his reality in his head. Though beautifully rendered, the work is his own vision of the world — the unholy union of the human form with barnyard animals, dogs and even fruit. Yes, there is a touch of madness here, but that is the fun part. Not everybody gets it, but he adds, “Sometimes I just crack myself up, and that is enough.”

Other three-dimensional pieces are crafted from newel posts or other wooden junk store finds, each given personality with paint and posture. Many of his sculptural pieces are at the Hannah Grimes Marketplace in Keene and a few are part of the permanent collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.Upon admiring the art of an old seed packet, Campbell created a series of Sito Seed Packets with everything from beets to corn to eggplant imbued with the human form. Sito is Otis spelled backward  — the name of his Jack Russell Terrier. The dog is his muse and pops up in renderings from “Otis van Gogh” to “Woman with Jack Russell” and an annual portrait. Campbell likes to say, “Otis is the face of Tim Campbell Art; I just do the work.”

Campbell has developed an audience for his style over the past 25 years and accepts commission work. He’s done many dog portraits and even Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” adding, of course, his signature eyes. His work is available as the original acrylic or as affordable giclée prints on heavy canvas and even postcards. He has a whole catalog full.

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