@story MARLA CANTRELL
@images ADAM GRANT CAMPBELL
On the easel in Adam Campbell’s Fayetteville studio is a portrait of TriCycle Community Farm founder Don Bennett, so realistic it feels as if you could reach out and touch him.
The oil painting, shaped like a hexagon approximately sixteen inches wide, is just one of several portraits in a project called The Hive. Adam came up with the idea several months ago when he was thinking about the power of community and collective thinking. He chose the workers at TriCycle in Fayetteville because they feed the hungry, teach farming and bee keeping, and help volunteers connect with the earth. When the portraits are complete, they’ll fit together like a honeycomb, each portrait representing a separate cell in the bee’s nest.
The Hive is just one of the several ideas Adam is developing right now. The thirty-five-year-old is feeling a rush of creativity lately and he knows if he can carve out enough time to work, everything else falls into place. “I learn so quickly and my work gets better so fast,” Adam says. “I saw that happen in high school. I was free to pursue my art and I had a good teacher who understood the spiritual aspect of painting.”
Adam was so good in fact, that he earned a scholarship to the Maryland Institute College of Art. And he did go, but he didn’t stay for long.
“I knew I needed to meditate. I’d tried it on my own and sometimes I’d have a good experience and sometimes I’d have bad, and sometimes I’d just fall asleep. My mind had opened up the summer after graduation and I knew I needed to get to know myself. Art seemed insignificant, honestly, compared to that. I had to learn some things before I could approach my art in a valuable way.”
So he left Maryland behind and found a school that taught meditation. He stayed for six years. About four years ago, he decided he wanted to get the formal education he abandoned as a teen. So he enrolled at the University of Arkansas. He doesn’t think he was the easiest student – he was so intent on learning that he pushed for more and more to do - but he was talented. At one point, he finished twenty portraits in forty days. Adam asked people he knew to sit for him. Day after day he turned out powerful pieces, working quickly, getting both the features right and evoking the emotions behind them.
Since he graduated earlier this year, he’s felt an awakening. He’s trying different techniques, and painting over pieces that are not quite good enough. “There’s such a process. You’re wading through your own criticism and you’re always improving and learning.”
But he likes it that way. Adam would hate to be an artist who finds one thing he’s good at and then stalls. “When I get good at something, when I master it, I abandon it and try something else.”
That’s what keeps him moving with such great force. “There may come a time in my life when I look back on my work and think my best is behind me,” Adam says, and immediately backtracks.
“George Inness,” Adam says, “was a famous American landscape painter. As he got older his paintings got softer. He still painted landscapes but the edges got fuzzy and that’s what he became known for. It was almost like everything was filled with vapor. Misty. He still painted so well. There was nothing sloppy. The last painting was the year he died.
“It moved me to tears when I saw these pieces. One of his earlier landscapes was pastoral, with boy shepherds and sheep. Beautiful. There was one with men marching like they were going to war, and in the foreground there were a couple of boys with their sheep. It was hyper-realistic, but ornate. It was so masculine, all these hard edges, very defined. He was about twenty-four when he painted it. Amazing.
“Then when he’s like seventy he paints a picture of a farm in Vermont, I think. It’s done in his trademark, blurry style. Everything is soft and it’s late in the day, the sky is darker blue. There’s a tree in the mid-ground and sheep standing around this woman. It’s so subtle that it’s easy not to think of it as a pastoral at all. There’s a woman,” Adam says, mystified by the thought of it, “standing with her sheep. He pulls you in. There’s no edge that pops out at it you. Its softness draws you in. It’s so feminine. The shepherd is a woman, and there’s a bird in a birdhouse and it’s flying back to it, a spiritual message, this white dove-like bird returning. It was the year he died. He was going home. I like to think he knew that.”
Adam sees his life unfurled before him, an artist, much like George Inness, whose art helps him stay connected to the spiritual world. It’s an exciting prospect. There’s so much to do, he says. And with that, he turns back to the easel, as if a clock is ticking, and picks up his paintbrush.To see more of Adam’s work, visit adamgrantcampbell.com.