Chicago Works: Jessica Campbell

In her studio, artist Jessica Campbell discusses her practice as well as the humor and history behind the artworks in her Chicago Works exhibition.

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In her studio, artist Jessica Campbell discusses her practice as well as the humor and history behind the artworks in her Chicago Works exhibition.

Jessica Campbell Transcript

Something about just the way I draw naturally or the way I think is humorous, but then I also have a pretty dark streak.

We experience darkness and sad experiences and humor all together in one turn. And so the fact that these look a little bit cartoony and Muppet-y and like goofy and silly is complicated by the fact that a lot of the scenes that are being represented are dark.

The majority of the work that I do has some connection to my personal life. The most powerful aspect of art is its ability to engender empathy or to be able to experience the world through someone else’s perspective. It’s important for me to incorporate my own perspective in the work that I make, and it also just feels like the most honest way of making work.

I teach the history of comics at DePaul University. And part of that class is going back further and talking about longer narrative traditions and combinations of words and pictures and then also narrative painting as a part of the history of comics. And the Scrovegni Chapel is this kind of premier example of narrative painting. And as I was showing it to my students I realized that that was a way for me to draw a bridge between my comics work and the studio work that I make. And those paintings detail the life of Christ in this series of narrative panels.

The exhibition that I’m working on is focused around this artist, Emily Carr, who is an early 20th-century modernist painter from Victoria, British Columbia, which is also where I’m from. I grew up very close to where where she lived, and I spent my teen years like, getting drunk on the beaches that she painted.

So this is Emily Carr in a train coming to Chicago in 1933. This is me working at a comic book convention, which has been a sort of reality in my life for a long time.

This is my high school boyfriend dumping me at a chain restaurant called Milestones. He made me pay for dinner, which seemed unfair.

What I’m doing is stitching our lives together. So it will be like her birth, my childhood, her childhood, my teen years, her teen years. So it ends with her death. Not my death, because. . . I don’t really know about that yet. Hopefully.