Freed from the constraints of the picture plane, large, brazenly-coloured anthropomorphic figures constructed from collaged carpet scraps of prior projects strut across the walls of the gallery in Jessica Campbell’s second solo show at Western Exhibitions, Gigantomachinations. This show, her first in Chicago since her acclaimed 2019 Chicago Works show at the MCA Chicago, opens on November 6 and will run through December 18. Appointments are no longer necessary; gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday, 11am to 6pm.
Prior to this exhibition, Campbell’s work was woven from elaborate, humorous, and politically pointed narratives, fitting for an artist who is a well-regarded cartoonist with 2 published graphic novels and another forthcoming. Her process has since changed. This exhibition is a response to the stress of a move from Chicago to Green Bay to help care for her ailing in-laws, stress from her own family, stress from making a living in upper Wisconsin, stress from the ongoing pandemic and a myriad of political and social crises. The work combines both the tradition of crazy quilts and pareidolia, the experience of ascribing meaning to visual phenomena (like seeing figures in the clouds). For Campbell, this method of working intuitively and formally, as opposed to starting with a clear idea and executing it, is “the only sustainable way for me to work in this current moment through a constant brain fog.”
As she works in the studio, juggling the above stresses with her own internal dialogue, Campbell’s mind plays both the role of defender of her beliefs and its antagonist. This leads Campbell to consider Gigantomachy, the struggle between the gods and the giants in Greek mythology. The Gigantomachy is one of the favoured topics for representation in Greek art and can be seen in the Parthenon friezes. These representations were also meant metaphorically, as a depiction of the shift from barbarism to civilized society and victory in specific battles. In a parallel manner, Campbell’s figures, pieced together from scraps embodying immense tension, come to be metaphorical representations of the demons in her mind. Working as a bit of an exorcism, Campbell’s non-linear process and newfound figures allow her to fight back against the struggles plaguing her mind during these past few years: “What a time to be alive!”
Jessica Campbell is a Canadian artist and humourist based in Green Bay, Wis., working in comics, fibres, painting, drawing and performance. Her Chicago Works show at the MCA Chicago in 2018-2019 was reviewed in Art in America, Hyperallergic and Juxtapoz. Her graphic novel XTC69 was reviewed in Publishers Weekly, The Comics Beat, and The Comics Journal; her 2016 graphic novel Hot or Not: 20th Century Male Artists was reviewed by Hyperallergic and Comic Alliance: both are published by Koyama Press and are available at the gallery. Her solo and two-person exhibitions include Field Projects in NYC, Roots & Culture and Sub-Mission in Chicago and La Galerie Laroche/Joncas in Montreal. Her work was recently on view in Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and has been included in group shows at the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton; Art Gallery of Hamilton in Ontario; Richard Heller in LA; moniquemeloche in Chicago, among others. Her new graphic novel, RAVE, published by Drawn & Quarterly, will be released in April 2022.