This is another in a series of sketches of craftspeople, members of Boulder Arts & Crafts Gallery, inspired by a quote from the book Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino. He writes, Association renders men stronger and brings out each persons best gifts and gives a joy which is rarely to be had by keeping to oneself, the joy of realizing how many honest decent capable people there are for whom it is worth giving ones best. This to me is the essence and benefit of our Cooperative.
- Thea Tenenbaum
Bruce Campbell trucks down to the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder, CO most everyday when weather permits, loaded with paints, brushes, rags and an old piece of metal, prepared to make art in public. When he really needs to concentrate or prep a piece or do something he calls scary like weld or bang on metal hell stay home but otherwise he heads off seven days a week. It makes him happy, connecting to the community and the high energy of the Mall. People stop to watch and talk, and making art while talking about art is Bruces idea of a good life. “The Mall is so simple”, he says, “and the rest of life can be so complicated. Doing this is great for my outlook”.
Born in Indiana in a small farming community that he left as soon as he could, he has always loved visual art, finding it easy and natural to draw and paint. As a youth he would make perfect copies of photos and draw absurd cartoons, and was especially fascinated by rhinoceroses and elephants with all their wrinkles. He remembers painting on an old sign he found in the woods when he was in high school, his first foray into his lifetime obsession of painting on things thrown away. At 19 he was already selling paintings and drawings in a casino art gallery in South Lake Tahoe, California.
After a few years skiing and fighting forest fires in the Sierra Mountains, Bruce moved to Boulder in 1981 and took his first job as the janitor at the Boulder Theater. When he saw how much they were paying an expensive ad agency to do their publicity, he announced that he could do it all himself, and within two months he had become their entire art department, a position he held for three years, designing print ads, making original paintings for the display cases, and a new poster every week. This led him to start his own ad agency with a partner and then to freelance, learning by doing, being taught by his own research or by advice from the printer. He illustrated a childrens book for the Denver Art Museum which was funded by an NEA grant, painted murals and designed the monthly movie schedules for the Art Cinema, and created the labels for Rainbow Juices. He supported KGNUs yearly pledge drive by making 5 years of Grateful Dead posters that became collectibles, and from this spawned a cottage business of posters, stickers, cards and T-shirts. He also designed a line of casual fashion clothing called brucesuits which was sold on a hand-cart on the Mall. When he started renting an historic old farm in Boulder he began his serious incursion into painting on farm junk. The land was strewn with old water heaters, boilers, tools of all sorts, cars, pipes and old metal of all shapes and sizes. He had time and royalties coming in from his other ventures, so in 1989 he started cleaning up all the old metal and doing art for fun again. Im just gonna paint junk, he announced and before long was showing in galleries in Boulder, Denver, Breckenridge, Aspen, Taos and Los Angeles.
His present aspirations are to continue his public painting on metal on the Pearl Street Mall but also to make fine art prints with the same images he paints on recycled metal. He also wants to expand his reach with a new gallery in Aspen, NY or LA as well as have a big museum show. While he knows he is changeable and flexible, he believes he wont tire of his Mall gig.
Bruce started working in public at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, TN, where hed been invited by their recycler to make art out of junk, and he created two fifteen-foot tall steels drum totems to frame a stage. He realized how comfortable he felt painting in public at venues such as music festivals and other public places. For many years he has had a fruitful relationship with the CU Environmental Center where they often ask him to appear at gatherings. This led to a commission for a sculpture on the CU campus, salvaged from the debris of the demolition of the old
Fine Arts building. He is what he calls a rabid environmentalist and classifies himself as a Boulder hippie who wants peace and love. He feels like it is an honor and privilege to represent Boulder while painting on the Mall and for this reason he loves being part of the Boulder Arts and Crafts Gallery. He wants to support it as an entity and organization with his energy and work. Any bigness or fame he is sure to collect he wants to bring to the Co-op, for the benefit of all.