Cressida Campbell

Interior with Red Ginger, 1998
woodblock print, 1 from an edition of 1
119 x 84.5 cm (print); 147.2 x 112 cm (frame)
signed ‘Cressida Campbell’ (lower right)

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Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Cressida Campbell: Recent work, solo exhibition, Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, 13 July – 7 August 1999, cat. 16

John McDonald, The Woodblock Painting of Cressida Campbell, Public Pictures, Sydney, 2008, illus. p. 231 (woodblock only)

One of Australia’s best-known and loved printmakers, Cressida Campbell, is celebrated for the distinctive and innovative technique with which she renders her still life, domestic and landscape scenes. In 1980, Campbell attended the Miasa Bunkacenter International Hanga Academy, Miasa, Nagano-ken, Japan. Also known as the Yoshida Hanga Academy, the school was founded by Toshi Yoshida, an eminent woodblock shin hanga and sosaku hanga artist and the son of the great shin hanga artist Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950). 

Campbell’s innovation was her decision to begin painting directly onto the woodblock itself. Traditional woodblock prints are comprised of multiple blocks – a key block with a black outline, and several other blocks for each colour in the final image. Campbell condenses her process onto a single large block, painting directly onto the wood with watercolour paint, and opening up heightened levels of detail not possible with conventional woodblock printing.

Wetting the surface of the wood and the paper, Campbell then lays paper over the block to make a single impression by lifting the paint from the surface. From there, Campbell works with the paper image in the studio with further paint to refine aspects of the printed impression. The results are mirror images reversed through the printing process – materially and visually distinct, but deriving from the same point of origin.

Interior with Red Ginger
, 1998, is one of Campbell’s unique woodblock prints made using her distinctive method. One of Campbell’s recurring subjects across her career is domestic space, scenes from her or another artist’s home or studio. Here, the red ginger (or ostrich plume) plant is seen twice – first, on the cupboard between the open white doors and, second, outside the window in the distant left of the composition. That suggestion of the plant in the garden being brought into the home connects the interior and exterior spaces, giving a sense of idyllic domesticity that runs through Campbell’s work.

As John McDonald wrote of Campbell’s work in his 2022 catalogue, Cressida Campbell for the National Gallery of Australia: “This intense sort of attention is what one finds in the Campbell’s interiors. Each object has a story which she has rehearsed innumerable times in her mind, but it retains a fascination over repeated viewings. The primary act of composition is the physical arrangement of paintings and other objects within a room, but to translate these items into a pictorial composition requires a very different set of aesthetic decisions. It’s an engrossing process: a puzzle that can never be solved because there is no right or wrong way to arrange a room or paint a picture.” (John McDonald, Cressida Campbell, 2022, National Gallery of Australia, p. 8.)

  • Interior with Red Ginger

Image courtesy of the artist and Philip Bacon Galleries, Brisbane

View artist profile

Cressida Campbell is a Sydney-based artist who works in watercolour, painted woodblocks and woodblock prints. Her work, which follows in the traditions of Margaret Preston, Giorgio Morandi, Thea Proctor and her friend the late Margaret Preston, is celebrated for its beautiful and poetic depictions of everyday domestic scenes, landscapes and still lifes.

Born in 1960, Campbell studied at East Sydney Technical College from 1978-1979, followed by a year of study at the prestigious Yoshida Hanga Academy, Tokyo, Japan. The Academy was founded by Toshi Yoshida (1911-1995), a renowned woodblock printmaker of the shin hanga (or ‘new prints’) tradition who was the son of Hiroshi Yoshida (1876-1950) one of the great Japanese printmakers of the early twentieth century. Toshi Yoshida was also a pioneer of the sōsaku-hanga or ‘creative prints’ movement, in which the roles of designer, carver and printmaker were all assumed by the one artist instead of being performed by separate craftspeople. 

Drawing upon sōsaku-hanga and broader Japanese woodblock printmaking traditions, Campbell creates prints and paintings that refer to and invert the traditions of the woodblock print. Often taking up to two months to complete just one work, her technique is often painstaking. First, she draws a scene from life onto a wooden block. (Campbell has said “If the drawing is wrong, then everything goes wrong.”) Next, she carves out the details of the image; she then paints segments of the block with layers of watercolour paint; and, lastly, she sprays the final object with water, often to take just a single print. The painted blocks themselves will often then become artworks in their own right, a celebration of the woodblock printing process which is so often ignored or concealed behind the beauty of the final image.

Campbell has exhibited extensively over the past four decades and is widely represented in Australian and overseas public and private collections, including the British Museum, London, and the National Museum, Krakow, Poland. In 2009 a major survey exhibition of her work, Timeless: The art of Cressida Campbell was held at the S.H. Ervin Gallery, and subsequently toured to the Queensland University of Technology Art Museum, Brisbane. A major monograph, The Woodblock Painting of Cressida Campbell, was published in 2009 by Public Pictures, Bronte, edited by Peter Crayford and with a forward and introduction by Edmund Capon and John McDonald. Campbell has won the Pring Prize and the Trustees’ Watercolour Prize, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, and has received an Australia Council for the Arts Verdaccio Studio Residency in Italy.