An Interview with Timothy Campbell

May 24, 2010

Timothy L. Campbell is an Evanston based artist. He has recently created a series of drawings and short text pieces detailing the lives of residents of the fictional town of Colorido. EPL is pleased and honored feature Mr. Campbell as the first artist in our local artist exhibition series. You can currently view the Colorido project on display on the 2nd Floor of the Evanston Public Library. To view more of Mr. Campbell’s artwork (including the entirety of the Colorido series) you can visit his Flickr site. And if you’d like to meet the artist and discuss his work with him, stop by EPL this Saturday, May 29th between 3PM and 6PM for the Colorido opening gathering. We recently spoke with Mr. Campbell via email about his art, his inspirations, and what it’s like to be an artist in Evanston.

Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist? What drove you to create in the beginning? What drives you now?

I started making art in 1996. My friend Bart Woodstrup inspired me to start painting and thinking about the conceptual possibilities one could inject into the art process. Until that point I had never considered making visual art, as I lacked any training. But, I learned quickly that I had the drive and a wealth of ideas to work with. I did the same thing with playing blues harmonica—I had no training as a musician, but I taught myself to play fairly well. Although, it was around the time I started making art that I stopped playing harmonica. My drive to make art now comes from a desire to create mysterious and curious scenarios.

You mentioned that when you started the drawings that became the Colorido project they were originally done as an exercise to teach yourself how to draw and to develop your skills. At what point did you begin to conceive of the concept of the town of Colorido and its interconnecting inhabitants?

I still have a lot to learn, so the project remains an ongoing exercise in drawing. From the start I had the idea to write all of these people into a town where their paths would cross with one another. After the first drawing I envisioned thousands of faces and just as many stories. However, the idea to frame and display the drawings didn’t come until I talked with my friend Bryan Campen in winter 2009. He turned me on to, which is a great website for raising funds to realize an art project. I raised all the funds to buy the frames for this show from many generous people. 

Is this your first time combining art and text? What was behind the decision?

For years my paintings have featured text. With regard to the Colorido project, I knew that if this was going to be of any interest to anyone a biographical sketch would have to accompany each drawing.

I see your characters as belonging to a certain type of literary tradition including works like The Spoon River Anthology, Winesburg, Ohio, and Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha stories where the author creates and populates a fairly vast microcosmic world. What specific literary influences do you see on your work in the Colorido project? From where else did you draw inspiration for these characters (both their visual appearances and their stories)?

Just the other day I was reading in Archaeology magazine about bodies preserved in bogs. The article mentioned two bog men found in Ireland and how their nipples had been cut. A museum official has the idea that these men were “failed kings or failed candidates for kingship,” as “sucking a king’s nipples was a gesture of submission in ancient Ireland.” While that’s just one example of the sort of stories I try to stay attuned to, I think it speaks to the overall potential of man—our strangeness knows no bounds! As for literary influences, I find the writings of Michael Ondaatje, Umberto Eco, and Gabriel García Márquez very inspiring. The films of David Lynch are also a big inspiration, as are Pieter Bruegel’s paintings. Two composers who stir up a lot of ideas in me are Gustav Mahler and Osvaldo Golijov. I read a lot of history, so that creates a lot of stimulation, too.

Do you have any plans to develop the Colorido project further in either art or writing?

The project will continue for a long time, and in that time I would like to develop several cohesive stories further so that there are “chapters,” if you will.

The stories have a very international flavor to them (generally South/Central American, but spanning large portions of the rest of the world as well). Are you inspired by travel, and do you get to travel much? Are there any places in particular that have inspired your art and the Colorido project especially?

My travels are a big part of my art. I write a lot of poetry when on the road and I always come home with lots of ideas for paintings. I lived in Guatemala a few years ago, so that culture is very close to my heart. My uncle Pat got me thinking about other countries when I was a child. He traveled a lot, and he loved to share his stories from Saudi Arabia, India, and Egypt. That was the spark, but what lit the fire was a backpacking trip to Asia in 1999 where my friend Andy and I wandered around Japan, Thailand, India, Nepal, Tibet, and China. In 2000 I spent three weeks in Tunisia. That experience really got me thinking about countries that possess a large variety of cultures. I think that trip, as well as subsequent trips to Belize and Hungary, has had quite an impact on my Colorido project.

Finally, since we are in Evanston and you are the very first artist to participate in our series of exhibits highlighting the work of local Evanston/Chicago artists: do you find Evanston and the Chicagoland area to be a good place to work and exhibit as an artist? What inspires you as an artist about the community where you live?

Evanston and Chicago are full of interesting people and great venues for showcasing art. I just moved to Evanston from Chicago in September 2009 with my girlfriend Alice DuBois, so we are still exploring and always on the lookout for new places to exhibit. Alice is also an artist—she’s a full-time painter and a huge force in inspiring and motivating me to make more and better art.


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