The art of Alistair IW Campbell

Alistair I. W. Campbell (1955- )

I was born on Friday 13th of May 1955. I can't say what effect this must have had on my parents as traditionally this is seen as a unanimously unlucky day in Western Culture. I have since discovered through much reading of serious occult anthropology that this was an especially sacred day of the Female - Friday - Vendredi the day of Venus coupled with the number 13 - a sacred number being the number of Lunar cycles in the year. It is only when patriarchal fascism took over all of Western Culture aided by historical Christianity that anything sacred to the female was branded as bad luck or worse still, evil. I am also left-handed, this was also considered bad as the right was associated with the male, the left with the female, hence the 'left-hand path' in occultism being labelled as evil-female as opposed to the 'right hand path' good-male. Puerile reasons have been given for thirteen being unlucky, one of the most common being that Judas Iscariot made the 13th diner at the last supper. Fortunately I have read from serious occultists and I have understanding of the patriarchal hatred of the Feminine of which the worst example was the persecution of the witches who happened to meet in covens of thirteen (Lunar again).

My mother left my father when I was two. Therefore, I grew up with the guiding influence of the female. I rarely saw my father as my mother did not want anything to do with him, and my upbringing was shared between my mother and my maternal grandmother, who incidentally share the same birthday as each other. My mother's father died before I was born. I saw my father's father once a year at most. I never saw my mother's brother who lived in Kent and my other uncle (on my father's side) was estranged from us as a result of my mum choosing to end the marriage which was considered unseemly in the late '50's, early '60's.

The result of this was that I had no notion of the archetypal territory inhabited by respect for 'father-figure' authority. And although I was reasonably well-behaved, I have never had any unquestioning respect for any form of authority. My older brother was severely damaged by my parents' separation and he had little or no interest in me throughout my childhood. I had a friend I was forced to play with as our mums were friends, but he bullied me. He was a year older and was of the grossest nature (he now holds an important job with BP). I had to wait until I was entering my teenage years before I could cease our relationship which I did as soon as I could. I had no interest in sport although I was healthy enough, I could never see the point of doing something solely for the reason of winning. I did play in the school rugby 'A' team for two years as the scrum half, I think I played more because I was chosen than anything else. One Saturday morning I was standing on a frozen rugby field and I remember thinking "why am I doing this", the following week I resigned and found myself a Saturday job in order to buy clothes for picking up girls, and music albums.

I was not encouraged to draw, paint or read at home, although my mother was a classically trained pianist. She trained to be a teacher to provide for us - when I was growing up she really had very little time to spend on my two other siblings or me. I only remember that whenever we did Art at school my pictures were always the first up on the walls. It was generally recognized that I was the class artist.

I was academically bright from an early age and had a high IQ, but the onset of puberty, the dramatic and almost terminal worsening of a childhood illness, combined with the careless mismanagement of my last year's education in primary school turned me into a class trouble causer.

During my early teenage years, I spent two separate nights in jail, one for attempting to break into a phone box with a crowbar, and the other for wandering around at two in the morning high on glue. I managed to evade getting a police record from either of these. And I knew that I did not want the experiences to go any further.

This brush with the law was not unusual: my brother (my only male role model) was a habitual thief for a while and a violent gang member. We had weekly visits from the probation officer for a long time.

I too was in a gang, but I had the same realization as the rugby field experience. We had come out of the local dance/disco hall where there was always trouble. I witnessed one of the older gang members I respected - he was always good to me - receive a brick in the head and I saw him pouring with blood. It was our job to chase the rival gang and settle the score; I realized that if we caught up with them, I would be unable to react violently, so that was the end of my gang days.

I easily moved into the hippy mode. I found getting a hold of drugs, going out with 'wild' girls, and blowing my brains out to psychedelic music much more rewarding.

I carried this on through Secondary school. I became obsessed with Art, finding out about all the major art movements of the 20th century and doing work in the various styles.

I was extremely fortunate in that we had a dedicated art teacher who kept his own library in the school. We were allowed to borrow from it (in those days schools just didn't have libraries and definitely not art libraries) and I consumed everything I could get a hold of. He was the first adult who encouraged my abilities, and who believed I possessed something unique.

For a little while, about the last two years of secondary, I was king of the castle, and I knew how good I was, although I was never ever condescending to anybody. I didn't have to be puffed up, my work spoke for itself.

I was the first person in my family to undertake a degree course. I was given no support, advice or guidance and made quite a few misguided decisions that nurtured my fairly alienated view of the outside world and to rely intensely on my own inner reality.

Firstly, I really didn't want to go to Glasgow Art School because I was desperate to experience new things on my own, and several school mates were going to Glasgow. I got an interview at one of the big London Art Schools. They advised me that it was not a good idea for me to begin there and that I should do my Foundation Year closer to home. I was very disappointed, but then decided to go to Edinburgh. Because of my massive portfolio and my 'A' result, I could choose any Art College I wanted in Scotland, I chose Edinburgh. It was a big mistake. I had also failed to grasp that I could go elsewhere after my Foundation Year. With the hindsight of parenthood I now know how much a young person needs support, help and a listening ear but I did not know it then. I thought all these decisions were made by everyone - like me - in isolation.

I began losing interest in being creative rapidly as my Foundation Year progressed, and I fell into manic depression which NOBODY noticed. For second year, I took Graphic Design because I thought the head of the school of painting was an arsehole, and I had done some work with video and animation at the end of my foundation year which I loved. We had been shown a programme about animation with Bob Godfrey (later I worked in the same building as him in animation) and Terry Gilliam's work with Monty Python's. I naively thought I would get lots more opportunity to follow this interest if I took graphic design. Another absolute error. The tutors were like bank clerks and I spent most of my time playing the piano in the architect student's dayroom (that nobody used) or creating complicated airbrush pieces based on Buddhism and psychedelic Hindu-like work. I would have been more accepted if I had signed into graphics every morning, done a shit on the floor where my desk was, and left for the day.

I took stained glass as a companion subject because I was interested in illumination and recording spiritual ecstasy. The stained glass tutor was an alcoholic who kept a little clique around himself and who for some reason treated me like a fly with 5 legs. He told me that he would pass me in that module if I promised not to take stained glass next year.

At the end of the year, 2 people in the entire year failed, one was a guy I remember who did absolutely nothing and spent all his time trying to find gay parties which was hard work in those days, the other was me. In the space of two years I had gone from Everest to the deepest pit on Earth - the only consolation was that I had moved heavily into meditation and was quickly becoming a full time 'Premie' (Lover of God), a devotee of Guru Maharaji.

The college was brilliant. I was summoned in front of a board, I was told that my work was much too wayward and (didn't fit the pigeonholes [my words]). They were prepared to offer me a chance to resit 'if' I was prepared to do what I was told; otherwise, it was best for 'me' if I left. You've really got to hand it to these fuckers who think they have ANYTHING to do with Art - without any support in the least from anybody, I immediately decided to leave.

I immediately started looking for a job to pay my Mum for my keep, and I got one as a dishwasher in a steakhouse (I was a vegetarian by this time). I met up again with Ann who I had known from school, and I eventually moved to Stirling to be near her as she was starting her final year at Stirling University.

My comparatively wealthy Gran (my father's mum) had just died and I think I was left £300. I decided to use this to finance an attempt to create animated films for submission to various bodies, as the idea of doing this in Edinburgh's Graphic Department would never have happened. While I was doing work on an animated film project, I had managed to recover my creativity from the stage I was at before entering Art College. I continued to produce work and I managed to arrange for an exhibition of my work in the University. I was supposed to be exhibiting in the main theatre exhibition area, but it was changed to the student's recreational and eating area. I realized in hindsight that this was a failing of nerve in the administrator who organized this with me. I did succeed in selling one of my paintings to the university - it was the only realistic work I had in my exhibition.

A new gallery had recently opened in Glasgow called 'The Third Eye Centre'. Having by now being widely read in Mysticism I was inspired to submit some of my work for their first exhibition, I was rejected. I sent them a letter and suggested that their third eye referred not to the Mystic's, but to the anal passage. I also entered a national exhibition in Liverpool, Ann & I travelled down there specifically so that I could submit my work, no joy there either.

Ann finished University and we decided to move to London in 1977, my aim was to scout the galleries and try to exhibit my Art. This was unsuccessful, apart from having two exhibits for a short time in a gay bar in West London. Punk Rock had exploded on the scene, and we entered a hedonistically nihilist phase where I gave up producing any Art. I did manage to gain work in an animation studio, but I realized commercial art held no worth for me and we parted company with no regrets.

Our nihilism resulted in such abundant drug use that we eventually decided around 1980 to use Art to pull ourselves out of the abyss of using drugs and being on the dole in Deptford.

Ann and myself were practising a highly esoteric form of occultism, (I had given up on Guru Maharaji before moving to London) and this gave us the impetus for my Art & Ann's Poems. This resulted in being invited by The Occult Society of Leeds University to present a slide show and poetry reading which we did in 1984, followed by a joint exhibition with Chesca Potter in Oxford Library in 1985 organized by The Oxford Occult Society. This coincided with us moving back to Glasgow as my Gran's flat was vacant at £5 a month. While in Glasgow I tried to gain a place in illustration at Glasgow School of Art, the only thing the tutor said to me was that he couldn't understand why I put borders on my work! I also tried to get into Dundee Art College. I sat in a room with Ann while the tutors looked at my work in another room. They called me in and I sat down. They then asked me what my opinion of taste was! Before the Leeds and the Oxford show we had moved to Tiverton in Devon as a Manpower Services Job was available in a national Trust property that had not been filled. We did this because rent was supplied along with wages, it could have been anywhere.

My Art continued off and on in amongst various jobs until I entered Exeter University Rolle Faculty of Education to train as a teacher - majoring in Expressive Arts from 1988 - 1992. As a mature student, I was able to create an abundance of varied and powerful Art in those years. From 1993 till 2003 teaching really got in the way of me having much energy left to create Art. I also had a major fight with the local education authority.

But I picked up a pencil and began drawing a tree in June 2003, and from then, I have never looked back. I feel as committed to Art as I was before I entered Edinburgh Art College where I almost lost my soul way back in 1973.

I have tried lots of ways of fitting in to society and having a steady - though small - career and an invariable clash with orthodoxy and the establishment. Finally, through an unexpected series of events I got a serious illness and am curiously given 'permission' from outside myself to devote these last few years to being a creative artist. In return, for what seems fairly challenging circumstances, I have had a really stable, creative time where my family and I have been relatively stress-free in terms of personal well-being. I have come to terms with being an artist and no longer feel like a stranger in an even stranger land. This is due to the magic of the internet to a large degree. I have visual proof that I am not alone and communication is possible without having to be intrusive. This feels like a new beginning - I have never been so public before.

Alistair I.W. Campbell
November 2007

Created and designed by Dripping Facade Ltd. © 2007-2008.