Richard Campbell is a well known Indigenous artist, renowned for producing paintings that explore Aboriginal spirituality and its parallels with the Catholic faith. Richard will be discussing his work at the Glasshouse this month at a coffee morning, as well as displaying his Creation Series in a one-of-a-kind exhibition.
Hi Richard. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Bowraville. We moved around a lot when I was a kid – we lived in Forster, Redfern, Blacktown, trying to stay one step ahead [of the authorities]. In 1966, they caught up to us – me, my older brother and 3 younger girls – and I was in a boys’ home until I was about 18.
What is your tribal background?
Dunghutti on my father’s side and Gumbaynggirr on my mother’s side. The stories of the Dreamtime from those two different tribes – are they so very different?
Most of the Dreamtime stories connect to each Country – they’re all similar stories.
When did your interest in art begin? Did you draw as a child?
Yes. The old man used to make boomerangs and shields. I’d sketch some things and he’d burn them on the items, and I’d colour them in afterwards.
I used to draw and sketch a lot in the boys’ home to pass the time too and to keep my mind occupied.
What kind of style do you like to paint with, and who inspires you?
European and also traditional. I’d like to think I’ve created my own style of painting; it’s a unique style. I really like Lin Onus … he was an Indigenous artist from Victoria, but he did a little bit more European than what I do. He was a famous artist and passed away a few years ago, at a quite young age.
Also, my older cousin, Robert Campbell Junior, who painted in more of an Indigenous style … but I really like to think I’ve created my own style.
What do you like to communicate with your paintings – what stories do you tell? There appears to be quite a spiritual element to some of your paintings as well.
They’re often based on my own stories … how I was taken away, my mother’s stories, my father’s stories … stories of the Dreamtime.
I met my sisters again about 15 years after we were taken away. About 12 years ago, two of my younger sisters started working for the Catholic system. I was living in Newcastle then, and I had a few paintings in an exhibition in Maitland. One of my sisters saw the paintings – she didn’t know I could paint – and she rang me up and told me she knew a priest who would like me to do some spiritual art.
I worked with the connection between the Dreamtime stories and the spirituality, and that’s where the spiritual paintings all started.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working with a school to do a painting of a story where someone stops to help an injured man [a bible story] – I do a lot of work with schools. A lot of my work is commission work.
When you present your coffee morning at the Glasshouse, what will you be talking about?
I have my artwork on a USB stick, and I’m hoping to project the images up on the wall and talk about them and what they mean.
I’m also exhibiting at the Glasshouse. The works are called the Creation Series, and I’ll talk about these artworks as well. There are 10 paintings in the series, and they took nearly 12 months to complete. I like exhibitions like this.
I did one for Deakin University in Geelong, which also took me around 12 months to do. I really enjoy this work.
Your works are very striking and unusual. If someone would like to commission you for a painting, how do they get in touch with you?
They can call my mobile: 0421 757 184.
This story was published in issue 78 of Port Macquarie Focus