It started with a matchbook ad and the promise of an "Illustrious career in the glamorous world of Cartooning and Art." At 13, Kalynn Campbell begged, pestered and manipulated his parents into coughing up the money - and within weeks his path down the art walk of fame began with courses delivered by mail from the dubious world of the correspondence school. It's been a long strange trip from his crude rendering of 'Stumpy' the matchbook pirate to his current painting done for the "Best Of" cover of heavy metal megagroup MEGADETH. His illustrations have turned up everywhere, from illustrations for CDs and posters (his client roster reads like a who's-who of rock'n roll) to his own line of toy skateboard wheels ('Phat Wheels'), die-cast cars (Johnny Lightning), lighters, belt buckles, & T-shirts. But it is those paintings that captivate and seem to cast a spell over the viewer.....
With a style reminiscent of cheap '40s advertising mixed with 60's hot-rod aesthetics, mail-order influences can't be easily shaken - and the shadowy ghosts of all things base shine through like a pair of brass knuckles and give his work an almost creepy feel. But woven into each piece, usually in the form of puns spun around the edges of the imagery, is biting, satirical commentary that leaves the viewer with a sly smile instead of a shudder. For these are games. Games played throughout life, love, and the pursuit of happiness (such as it is); games that play with the viewers' emotions and experiences; games that have made their way onto the walls of galleries and museums throughout the country.
A soldier in the Lowbrow Art Movement, Campbell gets animated when asked about his thoughts on the current "Fine Art" state of affairs. Sitting in his cramped studio, surrounded by a wall of Halloween masks, skulls of all sizes, a full-sized articulated skeleton, old gambling memorabilia and assorted pin-up cuties, he gathers his words carefully; then, with a frown and a pointed finger, says, "The Art world has always been controlled by politics and snobbery. Major critics, the ones with the power to influence dealers and key collectors, not to mention academia, are afraid to validate the current trend towards lowbrow art. They're afraid they'll look silly In the eyes of the old-money social elite. You know, people whose sole idea of important social commentary is stuck back in the era of the postmodern Expressionists. I think the so-called HIGHBROW art community has forgotten that art should reflect current social and cultural values. In today's tabloid world of voyeurism, irreverence and shock, I think Lowbrow speaks volumes." With an emphasis on the word "tabloid", Campbell's paintings seem to reflect a rapidly-changing world, one which reminds us that we are ourselves pieces on a giant game board, tensely focused on the competition, yet controlled in part by the fickle hand of fate. We're reminded we sometimes have to take it on the chin just to make it past "GO". For my money, his work is an intellectual "get out of jail free" card, one I couldn't do without.
When in Los Angeles, check out his work in person at the La Luz de Jesus Gallery at 4633 Hollywood Blvd. And tell 'em GALLERY sent ya!