Newcastle artist Lyndal Campbell dealt with her fast-approaching exhibition deadline by moving into the gallery.
Some works in Lyndal Campbell’s Blue Five Ways. Photo: Helen Hopcroft.
It’s a scenario familiar to many artists. The exhibition deadline is fast approaching, and somehow we haven’t managed to produce as much work as we would have liked. As the countdown continues, a wave of panic begins to build. We imagine standing there in an empty gallery, the white walls glaring back at us…
Newcastle artist Lyndal Campbell found herself in just this predicament. ‘All these obstacles kept getting in my way… Every time I thought I had the window of time I needed to concentrate for my exhibition, something would happen that I couldn’t say no to… They’re not bad distractions, they’re good distractions, but it still stops you from focussing and getting in the zone,’ she told ArtsHub. Struggling to finish a body of work for an exhibition at Newcastle gallery and studio The Creator Incubator, and physically tired from her day job building sets, she found herself getting more and more stressed. Two weeks before her exhibition was due to open, she woke with a start at 4am with a clearly formed plan.
The next day, Campbell pitched her idea to Braddon Snape, owner of The Creator Incubator. Campbell proposed moving into the gallery and living there for five days while she created paintings for her exhibition. It was to be an immersive experience, interspersed with performances and poetry readings by other artists, and would result in a completed body of work. As someone who juggles teaching, running the Incubator, family and his own creative practice, Snape was sympathetic to the idea. The idea quickly became a reality when a friend wrote an article about the performance for the Newcastle Herald. Suddenly, Campbell felt that her plan was ‘set in stone’.
On Monday 1 July, Campbell moved into the gallery. For the next five days, she ate, slept and painted there, spending only short periods of time outside the space. A friend delivered ‘this fantastic air bed’, she says, which she installed in an adjacent office because she wanted to use ‘the whole (gallery) space to paint and try different things’. Campbell’s aim was to use the time to create 50 artworks, and to finish the performance at 5.55pm on 5 July to celebrate her 50th birthday. Then she’d go home, shower, and come back the next day for the exhibition opening. It was a nice, neat plan that didn’t take into account the ‘rollercoaster’ intensity of what she was about to do.
‘What the hell have I done?’ Campbell wondered on the first day. By day two, however, things had started to flow. She started pinning works to the wall as she completed them, working through one idea after the other, learning to trust her instincts. Someone had gifted her a box of old acrylic paints – she usually works in oils – and she found the process of exploring a new medium exhilarating. The fast-drying paints brought a new spontaneity and freshness to her practice.
Lyndal Campbell’s paint pendulum. Photo: Helen Hopcroft.
Visitors to the gallery seemed fascinated by her creative process. ‘What was really interesting is that people would sit in the gallery and watch me paint,’ she said. An unintended irony was that while the pressure of fragmented time had inspired the performance, hundreds of people attended the gallery to chat to the artist and watch her work: ‘I created a monster!’ Campbell jokes. One of the unexpected benefits was the many kindnesses she experienced, from people bringing care packages, offering encouragement, or helped her focus on her art by taking on mundane tasks. She said the amount of food people brought was astonishing. For five days, there was ‘no such thing as a starving artist’.
By Thursday, however, she had hit a wall. She was tired and slightly anxious from spending nights sleeping in an empty warehouse in a largely deserted industrial area. Worse still, the wonderful flow she had experienced during the second and third days of the performance had quite dried up. ‘I was overthinking everything,’ she said. She was also beginning to worry whether she would hit her target of completing 50 works as she still had seven to go. Then Friday finally arrived. At just before 5.55pm, the exhausted artist set up a pendulum designed to swing paint from buckets onto a long piece of wallpaper on the floor. Her birthday was celebrated to the rhythmic swing of a pendulum dumping brightly coloured liquid onto the floor.
Looking back, Campbell says that the experience helped her burst out of a creative rut. She spoke about resurrecting ‘techniques I’d learned 30 years ago but didn’t practice’. With no time to doubt herself, she threw herself into process, revelling in experimentation. She found herself ‘enjoying painting and seeing the end results, and the possibilities’. More importantly, it consolidated her confidence and identity as an artist. ‘I just love painting full stop.’
4.5 stars out of 5 ★★★★☆
Blue Five Ways
by Lyndal Campbell, with drop-in guests
Live-in performance/installation: 1-5 July 2019
Exhibition: 6-14 July 2019
The Creator Incubator, Hamilton North NSW