Steven Campbell, Scottish (1953 - 2007)

Steven Campbell
1953 Born in Glasgow
1978-82 Glasgow School of Art
1990 Artist in Residence, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
2004 Lived and worked in Kippen, Stirlingshire
2007 - Passed away of a ruptured appendix.

Steven Campbell emerged as one of the young Glasgow school of artists and his international reputation was established while working in New York in the mid 80's. His highly original paintings evolve from an eclectic range of personal and literary sources creating narrative paintings, which provide surreal and trenchant comment on man in the modern world. Steven Campbell was one of the most highly regarded Scottish painters of the modern era. Along with Peter Howson, Adrian Wisniewski, Stephen Conroy and Ken Currie, Campbell was deemed by the media to be part of a group dubbed “the New Glasgow Boys”.

Several of the members of this somewhat fluxive grouping and its associated figures – Campbell included – regarded the term as a lazy and rather meaningless label. Apart from a firm, shared interest in figurative painting, the group did not really have a great deal in common, not even, as is often claimed, politically; if Currie’s working-class heroes made for splendid trade union posters, Conroy’s young fogeys, while equally decorative, often looked as if they were just about to pick up the latest Spectator. And Howson’s tattooed “muscular jerks”, as they have been described, inhabit yet another universe, one quite different from that of Campbell’s wonderfully lively canvases. (Campbell was very interested in performance art, a fascination manifested in the sprightly movement of his figures.)

Campbell’s art has occasionally been described as if it were arcane, if not deliberately obscure. Yet while it is certainly the case that his canvases are often replete with complex symbolism, his body of work, like the art of William Blake, is both beautiful and (usually) perfectly explicable in its references, whether to classical mythology or to the films of Hitchcock. The work was commercial, as well: exhibitions would regularly sell out.

What all the New Glasgow Boys had in common, apart from emerging at roughly the same time and all being associated with the Glasgow School of Art, was that they were undoubtedly highly talented, and Campbell, by the consensus of his peers and the critics, was the finest and most influential artist to emerge from that astonishing, vibrant period in Glasgow art.

Steven Campbell was born into a postwar Glasgow in which bright children from working-class backgrounds were encouraged to get educated and expand their horizons. Campbell left his school, Rutherglen Academy, at 16, and worked in engineering for several years, a false start that ended when he applied to attend the fiercely selective Glasgow School of Art.

After graduation and being awarded, in 1982, the Bram Stoker gold medal, Campbell went to New York and studied at the city’s Pratt Institute after acquiring a Fulbright scholarship. It was while working in New York during the 1980s that Campbell began to establish an international reputation.

British artists who are successful in both countries are fairly uncommon, and that Campbell first made his breakthrough in New York, demonstrated to his peers that there was no need for any boundary to their ambitions. Campbell’s work was promoted in America by the Barbara Tolls Fine Art Gallery, and he was the first Scottish artist of his generation to be seriously collected in America, establishing a highly lucrative bridgehead for others.

Campbell’s last main exhibition was in 2004 at the Glasgow Print Studio, whose director, John Mackechnie, has described Campbell as “one of the greatest painters we’ve had in Scotland in the last century”. Campbell thought of himself as essentially a pre-20th-century artist, and the show featured works paying tribute to the great masters of the 19th century, such as his beloved Cézanne. Campbell – who was fascinated by the great Apprentice Pillar at Rosslyn Chapel – was especially pleased by one review which hailed the show thus: “Move over Old Masters, the apprentice is coming”.

Campbell’s wife described him as a man “utterly committed to his art”, but also someone who would come home from the studio and be “a perfect dad and grandad”. Like many artists, Campbell had a reputation for being a bit prickly, but in truth he was a generous and humane man with a keen appreciation of the ridiculous, and a connoisseur of the absurdities of human life. Mike Munro, the noted chronicler of Glasgow’s language and culture, took his young daughter to an early Campbell exhibition, and parked child and pushchair beside one of Campbell’s large, very expensive (and sold) works. After a few minutes looking round, Munro returned to find that his infant had been quietly filling in spaces in the painting with a crayon. When Campbell was told about the desecration, he erupted – not in anger, but in joyous, infectious laughter.

1983 Barbara Toll Fine Art, New York
John Weber Gallery, New York
1985 The Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh
1987 Marlborough Fine Art, London
1990 Rex Irwin, Sydney, Australia

Steven Campbell: On Form and Fiction Travelling exhibition; Third Eye Centre, Glasgow; Oriel Mostyn, Llandudno; Marlborough Fine art, London; Aberdeeb Art Gallery; Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester & Southampton Art Gallery

1993 Pinnocchio's Present, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh; Marlborough Fine art, London & South London Gallery
1996 Chesterfield Dreams, Pier Arts Centre, Stromness, Orkney
1997 Chesterfield Dreams, Marlborough Fine Art, London & William Hardie Gallery, Glasgow
2002 The Caravan Club,Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh & Marlborough Fine Art, London. Catalogue introduction by Duncan Macmillan.

Duncan Macmillan, The Paintings of Steven Campbell, Mainstream Publishing, Edinburgh & London, 1993.
Duncan Macmillan, Scottish Art 1460-2000, Mainstream Publishing Edinburgh & London, 2000.
Murdo Macdonald, Scottish Art, Thames & Hudson, London, 2000

PUBLIC COLLECTIONS - Arts Council of Great Britain, British Council, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Scottish Arts Council, Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Tate Britain, Tate Liverpool

He became critically and commercial successful, particularly at his exhibition at the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow in 1985.

His work featured in the "New Image Glasgow" exhibition (1985) and in the Edinburgh Festival exhibition "The Vigorous Imagination" (1987).

Later on he nearly gave up painting, going into a self-imposed exile, only to return after almost ten years in 2002 with a lauded show The Caravan Club at Edinburgh's Talbot Rice Gallery.

He died of a ruptured appendix.

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