Most people who are familiar with Josh Campbell know him as a musician. However, the in-demand bass player also creates visual art, some of which is now on display at Mocha Mott’s in Vineyard Haven. “I think about art a lot more than I think about music,” says Campbell. “I don’t even differentiate the two. For me it’s about creation and improvising.”
With a very short deadline for the exhibit, the artist had to do quite a bit of improvising. “I had the busiest three-week lead-up to New Year’s Eve,” recalls Campbell. “On the 28th, Meredith [co-owner Meredith Gallo] asked if I wanted to do an art show in January. I had three days. I had a couple canvases laying around that already had stuff on them — disregarded projects from the past. I spray-painted over them and burned them.”
The resulting three images are more attractive than one might imagine. Each one looks like an abstract painting with a lone irregular shape set against a layered background. Closer inspection reveals that the focal point of each work is actually a burn hole, and one is seeing the wall behind. This combination of intent and spontaneity is a hallmark of Campbell’s work. “It’s more about process for me,” he says. “The end result is whatever it is. If it comes out attractive, that’s fine, but I do it mostly for myself. It’s a cleansing of something that needed to get out.”
Previous projects that Campbell has undertaken included deconstructing clothing and hanging it as art and creating wall-hanging sculptural pieces from bent and molded sheets of copper flashing. The former were on display at Mocha Mott’s, the latter hung at Mikel Hunter’s boutique and gallery in Edgartown.
In each case, Campbell was inspired by looking at something cast off in a different way, and seeing how he could manipulate raw materials to make them visually interesting: “It’s like looking at the evidence of something that happened. It’s about a relic that you view from an action that already took place. A communication that can’t be done in any other way. Mostly it’s an experiment.”
If that all sounds a bit cerebral, that’s deceptive. The easygoing Campbell is just as likely to make fun of himself as indulge in overanalysis of his work.
The creative process extends to his music as well. Recently, Campbell took on a slot on WVVY radio. His show, “Broken Record,” which airs on Mondays from 6 to 8 pm, features the bass player performing what he refers to as “really experimental stuff” live. “With most of what I do — you either love it or you hate it,” Campbell says. “I generally know it’s good if my mom doesn’t like it. Then I know that I’m on to something.”
Campbell moved to the Vineyard about 12 years ago, and started playing music seriously around the same time. He began with the mandolin, playing with the band Ballyhoo, but has since switched to bass. He performs with a number of local musicians, including Rose Guerin, Jemima James, Willy Mason, Good Night Louise, and Auntie Em and the Bedspins.
“To me it’s all art,” says Campbell. “The music is art. Everything is art. Once you get into that creative mode, your whole life changes. It’s the most enriching thing possible. I wish everybody could do it. For me, the only way to do it is by experimentation.”
The artist and musician had taken a bit of a hiatus from visual art. Lately he’s been primarily focused on his radio show. He found that sometimes it takes a push to get going. A three-day deadline was the push in this case.
“This is kind of a reawakening for me,” he says of his most recent art project. “I was dormant for a long time. It’s almost like my creative juices go there if given a deadline. It’s nice to know I have fresh ideas. A fresh, creative playfulness. To me that’s all that matters.”
That really is all that matters to Campbell. He’s not too concerned with selling his work, or even how it’s viewed by others. “I like what they do at Mocha Mott’s. There’s a different artist every month. You go in and get your coffee and every once in a while you look up at the wall and it will change your day, whether you like it or not. I like to create something a little more spacey. If I can get someone to think or even react for a couple of seconds while they’re their getting coffee, that’s great. Even if they think it’s stupid. I’ll take a ‘That’s stupid.’”
Hanging alongside Campbell’s work are paintings by Paul Farrington, his cohort in the woodworking business.