Lynne Campbell

1.  What are you working on?

I’ve been working on a series of small, somewhat tonalist paintings of pigeons seen from afar in a landscape.  I often paint birds.  This particular group of pigeons sometimes finds itself near a fountain.

I’ve also been writing.  It’s hard to know how to categorize these short pieces.  But these short writings complement my painting.  They share the same concerns.  They make a kind of sketchbook in words.  Here’s an example:


Four pigeons in a tree.  An odd small tree of many bending branches.  All the pigeons are dark, and one of them shows white wingtips.  They are still.  The tree is in the shade.  Not far below them mammoth hosta leaves are blazing with sunlight.  This green conflagration is surrounded by arched wrought iron fencing like church windows.  I could pray here.

Pigeon on the path:  uniformly dark blue like night except for a tiny patch of white on its back, between the wings, like a star.  Earthbound, this bird is heavy.  Solid.  Gravity on hot red feet.  An affinity with shapely earthenware of uncertain date.  You’d like to heft its gracefulness.  It belongs here in the shade, dark featherwork unmysteried by wind.

Oh, pigeon drinking chlorinated water from the fountain, tell me your secrets.  Does the bowing ever really work?  Is that piebald map some of you wear a message to other pigeons?  You will never see the beautiful fan your tail makes when you fly away.  When you look into my eyes with one of your steady red ones, I feel a momentary rapport.  Go settle yourself again on top of one of the fountain’s plinths like an ancient sculpture.  You are classical and worthy.  The fountain bubbles its appreciation like applause.  Sunlight dapples your head like laurel.


2.  Describe your work.

This is something I don’t like to do.  It always feels like a bad translation.  But I’ll try:  I make small paintings on wood.  They’re often tonalist and limited in palette.  They’re somewhat minimal, and they are quiet.  For the past many years, they often contain a bird.  Birds in flight particularly satisfy a kind of OCD devotion to composition.  I often work in series, though it usually doesn’t start off that way but rather evolves out of some inner compunction.  Almost all the paintings are square—the square satisfies some desire for symmetry and the repose that results from symmetry.  There’s a similar devotion to symmetry in religious architecture, altars, etc.  I wonder whether it is actually the symmetry which is responsible for the meditative quality we derive from those things rather than the religion.  I should also say that I paint from memory.

3.  Do you collaborate with other artists?

Not really, though in the past I had a grand plan to make an anthology of friends’ dreams.  I made a postcard with an image and text and sent it out and got a lot of great dreams in return, but like many of my big plans, I didn’t follow through with it.  I also dream of making a cookbook of artists’ recipes.  Artists are often great cooks:  cooking is a way to make something using your sensibility and taste and imagination.  This cookbook would have nice color reproductions of each person’s work, along with the recipes.  It would thrill me to complete this project, because I love to know what other people eat.  There’s a character in DeChirico’s Hebdomeros, an old count, I think, who asks each person that he meets what they’ve last eaten.  This character is based on someone DeChirico really knew.  I love that character and understand him.


4.  Plans for the future?

I want to do a whole series of small pigeon paintings which showcase in each portrait the endless variations of that curious bird.  The pigeon would be shown in profile, monumentally, in a formal portrait.  I’ve made the first one (which gave me the idea for the series), and it’s reproduced here, entitled “Rock Dove (for Myrna)”.  It takes its cue from tapestries, with their rich color and sensitivity to fauna.

5.  What do you do for fun?

Go birdwatching.  Especially at Tinicum (also known as John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge).  It’s hard to believe you’re still in the city there.  It is so beautiful.  My husband, the painter and poet John Sevcik, and I share this love of looking at birds and being anywhere beautiful in nature—in a field, a wood, near a creek, at a salt marsh.  We both feel a physical transformation at such places, a kind of melting of the bones.


6.  What’s on your mind?

The simultaneity of time.  What I mean by that is how everything is happening at once, but because of the nature of space, we can’t be privy to most of it.  Amazing things, beautiful things are occurring all the time, unbeknownst to us.  This fills me with awe. It gives me a thrill to contemplate, say, the fact that while I’m sitting here this evening, at the very same time there is a whale moving along in a dark ocean.  It is poignant.  And it is awesome, in the original sense of that word.  The same kind of awe people must feel imagining a god ensconced in his heaven.  Seeing a bird disappear into a tree gives me a similar feeling.  It’s now beyond my sight, going on with its secret life, while I am here nearby but utterly far, holding it in my imagination.  I’ve made some paintings concerning this, but it might lend itself better to writing.  Or just to imagining.

7.  Any exhibits coming up?

Hopefully, something at Morpeth Contemporary in 2013. Also, in April I’ll be in an invitational show curated by Bill Scott at Cerulean Gallery.


8.  Any past exhibits you’d like to mention?

I was especially pleased to have shown at the More Gallery, because I admire so many of the painters who showed there:  Paul Georges, James Havard, Sarah McEneaney, John Opie, Gene Baguskas, David Fertig, Marc Salz. I had a solo show there, called “Late Day with Birds” and an invitational show called “Quiet.” At Morpeth Contemporary I was in a three-person show with Celia Reisman and Christine LaFuente.  I’ve shown at J. Cacciola Gallery and Arcadia Gallery, both in New York.

9.  Is any of your work political?

No, not overtly.

Rock doves

10.  Are you involved in any organizations?

No, I can be a bit of a loner.

11.  What are you currently interested in?

Tapestries, especially the Unicorn Tapestries from the late middle ages, which seem a vast, strange, meticulous world.  Also, medicine, particularly because I haven’t been well for the past year and had to do some medical reading.  The complexity of the body–and medicine’s evolving understanding of it–is fascinating and confounding.  The body is miraculous in its many systems.  The cycle of cause and effect is intriguing and unexpected.  And I love that medicine has its own language, a kind of difficult, polysyllabic one that those in the know speak effortlessly. The arcane-ness of the language fits its astoundingly complex subject.  I’ve also developed a reverence for doctors for their knowledge, scholarship, and humanity.

Rock dove (for Myrna)

12.  What are you reading?

The Selected Letters of Anton Chekhov, whom I consider an astonishing, humane, and empathetic writer.  Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks, which is a fascinating study of the mind and some of its abilities by another sympathetic doctor and writer.

13.  What websites do you visit each day?

A few years ago I conked myself on the head coming up the stairs in an old house (I’m tall), which resulted in light sensitivity–especially while reading from a bright computer screen.  So, my computer time is limited.  I do visit facebook almost every day, though, which sounds wrong to say aloud.


14.  What types of music/audio are you listening to these days?

Often, silence is the best of all.  When I feel like listening, I listen to NPR, to jazz on WRTI, to Beethoven’s 6th, Leonard Cohen, Hank Williams, the Clash.

15.  Tell us about a few of your favorite spots in Philadelphia.

Tinicum, mentioned above; the Wissahickon; certain narrow streets in Philadelphia,  crowded with trees so that they’re twilit even at mid-day; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Central Library, especially in its upper, unvisited reaches via narrow marble stairwells leading to a heaven of books.  Some of my most favorite places are unintentional landscapes in cities.  There’s a prairie at 20th and Market that is completely unexpected, even though it’s been there for ages—due to some quirk in land ownership.  The grid of highrises is interrupted by a windy open space which is especially beautiful when it’s allowed to go to seed in summer:  pokeweed, Queen Anne’s Lace, mustard flower, asters—a whole field of them, another country, really, visited by starlings and pigeons, and bordered by tall buildings.  I recently discovered an unintentional zen garden a little north of City Hall.  I’m also fond of the formerly forlorn but now spiffy (thanks to the Barnes Foundation coming to the Parkway) odd little spit of grass beyond the Shakespeare Monument in front of the Central Library.  In addition to its general unusual-ness, it’s almost always visited by pigeons.

16.  Your websites.

Wingohocking (cardinal)


Description of paintings

 1.  History (detail), acrylic on wood

2.  History, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

3.  Solstice, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

4.  untitled, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

5.  Spring, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

6.  Rock doves, acrylic on wood, 5 x 5 in.

7.  Rock dove (for Myrna), acrylic on wood, 8 x 8 in.

8.  There, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

9.  Wingohocking (cardinal), acrylic on wood, 10 x 10 in.

10.  Winter, acrylic on wood, 7 x 7 in.

8 thoughts on “Lynne Campbell

  1. Lynne, I loved your rich use of language in this interview and gaining some insight to your connection with pigeons and nature in general. We should go for a hike sometime. Anne

  2. What a nice thing to do, Lynne! I found this interview and artwork very insightful. This was a wonderful addition to all the other great things that I’ve seen and heard from you. Keep it up!

  3. Lynne,
    I finally sat down and gave this interview and your paintings the time it deserves… it was inspiring and fulfilling to ponder your work while reading your poetic insights. Thank you for shining. Quiet, illuminating.

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