Celebrating the Ambiguous: Tomo Campbell's Go on Then at Cob Gallery

Saturday 24th October, 2020

By Jamie Johnson

Tomo Campbell’s (b.1988) second solo exhibition at Cob Gallery, is an in-depth pursuit of the artist’s fascination in the abstract and the ambiguous, underlined by his emphasis on the process and the joy of painting through difficult times. There is a tacit uncertainty in his work — this should not be interpreted negatively; rather, their casual and unrefined nature lets the audience dictate what it is they want to see. You get the sense that the paintings on show represent a twisted mirror that gazes back at their creator, and subsequently through to the viewer. This is most relevant in the manner in which ‘Here We Go Again’ and ‘There’s Always Another’, the two centerpieces are positioned relative to the viewer, reflecting one another through abstraction. Hung on opposite sides of the room, they surround the viewer. Ligatures lost in the comfort of a bubblegum bath, the accompanying earthy tones exaggerating jagged movements and provocations.

Tomo Campbell. 2020. There's Always Another. Mixed media. 340 x 190cm.

The manner in which he utilises the power of composition, and the potentially fluid nature of it, manifests itself here as something intangible, yet extraordinarily rich. Campbell’s subject matters are archetypes of tradition; silhouettes of a stately figure are witnessed in ‘Julie and the Duke’, just as a bust of a woman reclined is present in ‘Wait What’, the uncertainty and anxiety of the current moment etched both in her posture and in the work’s title. It is left to the viewer to interpret their own iterations of Campbell’s true intentions, but the beauty of undertaking this task is that its results are purely speculative. The complimentary colour palettes Campbell decides to utilise throughout Go on Then transports the viewer away from the gallery space, towards somewhere much more dreamlike, somewhere that exists only in the mind’s eye. This energy transcends the physical and takes one towards a state lost between activity and stasis, reality and lucidity. It is pieces together after being deconstructed, much like the collages of repeated delineations making themselves familiar to us through their sheer volume.

Tomo Campbell. 2020. Wait What. Mixed media. 95 x 114cm.

The works are technically accomplished. The innovative use of UV printing in combination with oil painting and other varied forms of manual craftsmanship creates subtle recurrences and reinterpretations of ligatures, movements and figures, old intersecting new. The prints, visible through slits in the application of paint, are of Campbell’s archival prints, speaking of repetition and a willingness to revisit, and relearn from, the past, alongside an eagerness to do, to make. The title Go on Then, whilst provocative, is also without inhibition, implying an energy to make and a recognition that these works are uniquely his, demonstrating both a verbal and an artistic lexicon that are irreplaceable. Campbell was the English National Ballet’s first artist in residence between 2012-2013 and there is evidence of silhouettes elegantly pirouetting through the trails of the thick oil brushstrokes which bubble and bounce atop the surface of the canvas. It is a joyous yet unrefined celebration of the ambiguous, in both principle and in execution.

Go on Then is on show at Cob Gallery, London, until 31st October