Cressida Campbell by Anne Ryan

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Margaret’s house, to me, was a work of art. It was like an installation; it was so charming and interesting and brilliantly put together with all sorts of objects, some valuable, some just beautiful bits of nature. It was intriguing and really original.(1)

This ambitious suite of four painted woodblocks by Cressida Campbell celebrates the life and home of fellow artist and friend, Margaret Olley. At the time this work was made, Campbell was staying at Olley’s home, taking advantage of the space to make some work of her own.

The modest eclecticism of Olley’s house has been carefully captured and composed. Some features Campbell drew as they were, while others, like the small pile of hats on the chair, were added. There is just as much a sense of looking through and out, as of the space within. In choosing a transitional zone, Campbell teases the viewer—how much of Olley’s life and work happens elsewhere? What happens in the garden, or inside the yellow‑walled studio through the window, or down the hall?

Olley used her home and the objects within it as a key subject for her paintings. Campbell’s vision of unfussy domesticity is quite different to Olley’s, but similarly gives a sense of her subject’s personality and the aesthetics that drove her art. There are allusions to favoured painters like Henri Matisse and Giorgio Morandi, and Olley’s compulsion to collect beautiful things is evident in the chaotic array of plant life in various stages of decay, Asian ceramics and a messy bookcase filled with art books. This picture is not a slavish replica of Olley’s home but rather an interpretation by a friend, unpretentious and rendered with affection.

Campbell’s work emphasises colour and design. Her distinctive woodblocks straddle the mediums of painting and printmaking, a choice as much aesthetic—for the fresco‑like quality of pigment on wood—as kinaesthetic, for the methodical and meditative acts of carving and painting. The medium has its challenges—Matisse’s Still life with oranges is reproduced in the correct orientation on the poster on the wall, while the text below has been carved in reverse; in both block and printed form, one or other would be incorrect. The perspective of the receding spaces of the house is compressed, echoing the flattened picture plane of Japanese ukiyo‑e prints, which Campbell collects and admires.(2)

The extent to which the interior life of a person is revealed by their home is a question posed here. After her death, the contents of Olley’s studio were gathered and reassembled at the Tweed Regional Gallery, where this woodblock now also hangs, giving context to the objects of Margaret’s life displayed nearby. As Campbell says:

I’m really glad that I did it. And I’m glad that it’s a record, a personal record. I’m glad it’s there.(3)

(1) Cressida Campbell in conversation with Anne Ryan, 2019.

(2) Campbell’s process has a connection with traditional Japanese printmaking methods, which she studied in Tokyo in 1985. See ‘Cressida Campbell’, in Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, Australian prints from the gallery’s collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1998, p 125.

(3) Campbell in conversation with Anne Ryan, 2019.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Ryan, Anne. "Cressida Campbell" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 68–69.

ANNE RYAN is Curator, Australian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

Cressida Campbell appears in

  • The Book

    With more than 150 artists profiled, the Know My Name book celebrates art by women from across Australia.