Rachel Campbell – Painter

Documentary Art

Just two days before the grand opening of her exhibit at Suntrust Gallery, Rachel Campbell stands at the edge of room and looks at her latest collection of paintings and drawings that adorn the walls. Vivid reds, yellows, pinks, and blues pop under the lights. She looks around the room and seems pleased by how everything has turned out. “They’ve really done a nice job with the hanging and with the lighting,” she says.

Campbell is a painter living in Durham. Although she has called North Carolina her home for the last ten years, she is originally from New Zealand and has lived in Canada, Germany, and London. Her “documentary art” tells the tales of her travels, her life, and her interests. Her latest body of work uses bold, vibrant colors to depict items that resonate with her and elevate everyday items. Campbell wants to make beauty out of things people don’t notice. When she finds it, she says, “I celebrate it in color and create a moment about it. It becomes something that viewers might think of differently. Often quite ordinary things need to be painted.” A small white house with a blue roof and blue shutters might not look like anything special to passersby on the street heading toward their McMansion, but Campbell has made it come alive on canvas. Shadows from tree branches dance across the front of the house. A green fence in the front holds back swaying plants. Suddenly, this once inconsequential house becomes a place you might want to escape to. A place where you could sit outside, feel the sun warm your skin, and watch the shadows continue their dance.

AC Rachel Campbell

Even though Campbell documents times and places important in her own life, each piece can stand alone with or without the story behind it. “Every painting has a story to it, but it’s not necessary for the viewer to know every story… [When] I’m selling my own work, I always ask if [the buyer] wants to know the story behind it. Often, people bring in their own stories, and if I tell my story, it could take away from theirs…People should be able to access and enjoy it by bringing their own narrative to it,” Campbell says.

Campbell is drawn to both interior and exterior landscapes. “I love structure and growth and color,” she says. To get her bright, vibrant colors, she works with oil on canvas. “I used to work in acrylics,” Campbell says, “and I like some of the qualities of acrylics, but  so much of what I do is about color, and you just can’t beat the pigment and the color and the texture [of the oil paint].” All of her current paintings have very smooth surfaces. “The surface of the painting isn’t interrupting the viewing. I like painting with texture, but if your painting already has a lot of visual texture to it, then adding paint texture can be irritating to the eye,” Campbell says. In her art, the viewers are able to gather all of the visual imagery and conversation without the distraction of surface texture.

Campbell has experienced many successes with her work. Some of her paintings are currently held internationally in private collections in New Zealand, the U.K., Germany, Switzerland, Norway, South Africa, Australia, Hong Kong, Beijing, the U.S., and Canada. She had work in various galleries in New Zealand and the U.K. before moving to the U.S. Each time she has moved, she has had to recreate herself to get traction, galleries, and clients. The hard work she has put in to make this possible is her biggest accomplishment. “You have to just keep showing up, getting up and painting, and keep it moving,” Campbell says.

Currently, Campbell’s work is on display in the Suntrust Gallery in Durham. The show will be open until October 5. After that, Campbell will display her work at the Tyndall Galleries in Chapel Hill for the Christmas show, Craven Allen Gallery in Durham, and her studio at Golden Belt.


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