Campbell is known as a printmaker although she works with a variety of materials. “I come to my work with a deep connection to the tradition of printmaking,” she explains, “but I am always searching for ways to move it forward—choosing a process or material that relates to the complex ecology of what landscape is in the twenty-first century.”
In addition to a suite of prints reminiscent of aerial photographs, the exhibition includes a fascinating pair of time-lapse videos that follow the passage of Venus across the Canadian Rockies. One monitor shows the scene upright and the other shows it inverted. This installation is accompanied by a series of stills taken from the video, which were altered with paint and other media and are presented as framed photographs.
Susan Goethel Campbell, Ground Number 5, dried earth, grass (grown in vacuum-formed plastic)
Central to the show, and most unusual in terms of materials, are two large pieces installed on the floor that might initially be mistaken for woven mats. Closer inspection reveals that they are actually made of dried plant roots. Campbell makes molds from trash such as packaging trays and plastic bottles. She puts soil and grass seed into these molds and grows the grass until the molds are tightly filled with root fibers. Then she lets the plants die and turns the dried, matted root forms out of the molds. This creates beautifully patterned objects that she arranges in grids, which almost presents a subterranean perspective.
Commenting on this work, art historian John Corso Esquivel said, “These works ultimately pay homage to life’s ability to thrive in inhospitable situations…Life is always poised and ready to regenerate in even the most parched, damaged environments.” Campbell is currently a visiting artist at the Cranbrook Academy in Detroit, and she is a frequent instructor at Penland. Her work has been exhibited at the Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas, the National Museum of Women in the Arts in DC, and at the International Print Center in New York City.
In addition to this fascinating exhibition, the Focus Gallery presents WEAR, a collection of contemporary jewelry. In the sculpture gardens, visitors will find two large pieces by local artist Carl Peverall made from stones that have been artfully joined together to create upright forms. The Visitors Center Gallery has an ongoing display of objects that illuminate the history of Penland School. And the Lucy Morgan Gallery presents a selection of work by dozens of artists affiliated with the school.
The Penland Gallery and Visitors Center is located at Penland School of Crafts on Conley Ridge Road, just off Penland Road in Mitchell County (near the town of Spruce Pine). It is the first building on your right as you enter the Penland campus. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, Noon-5:00 PM; it is closed on Mondays. For more information call 828-765-6211 or visit penland.org/gallery.