George Camp­bell fell in love with Spain in the 1950s. And the Spa­niards loved him so much, they named a round­about after him

The Irish Times - Weekend Review - - ARTS & BOOKS - Ir­ish Con­nec­tions George Camp­bell, artist

If you hap­pen to be driv­ing east­wards from Malaga along the Costa del Sol this sum­mer, and you’re not in any par­tic­u­lar hurry, you could do worse than turn on to Avenida Cer­rado Calderón and check out the round­about that marks the junc­tion with Calle Flamenco and Calle Andaluz.

You might even give your­self a cel­e­bra­tory cou­ple of spins around it. Be­cause although it’s just an­other round­about, it bears the name Glo­ri­eta Jorge Camp­bell, and that makes it a bit spe­cial.

This year marks the 100th an­niver­sary of the birth of George Camp­bell on June 29th, 1917. An Ir­ish painter who fell in love with Spain in the 1950s, he es­caped many Ir­ish win­ters by head­ing to the pretty fish­ing vil­lage of Pe­dregalejo, now a hip sea­side sub­urb, to paint ab­stract scenes in­spired by the land­scape and peo­ple of Ire­land and Spain.

If you’re a lit­tle scep­ti­cal about the aes­thetic value of a com­mem­o­ra­tive round­about, don’t be. This, after all, is Malaga. It’s vis­ual art heaven. Apart from the Pi­casso Mu­seum, Pi­casso’s house (also a mu­seum) and the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art, it’s home to the Car­men Thyssen Mu­seum, the Rus­sian Mu­seum – which ex­hibits items on loan from its big sis­ter, The Her­mitage in St Peters­burg – and a pop-up Pompidou Cen­tre in the shape of the Cube, a fu­tur­is­tic white build­ing topped with a glass box.

It must have been a rather dif­fer­ent city when Camp­bell first ar­rived. Born in Ark­low, Co Wick­low, he went to school in Dublin; he and his brothers then moved to Belfast to live with his wid­owed mother. At the time of the Belfast Blitz he was work­ing in an air­craft fac­tory, and be­gan to paint, tak­ing the dev­as­tat­ing bomb dam­age as his sub­ject.

Grad­u­ally he be­came in­volved in the arts scene and founded the Ir­ish Ex­hi­bi­tion of Liv­ing Art in 1943. The fol­low­ing year, with his brother Arthur, he pub­lished Now in Ul­ster, an an­thol­ogy of short sto­ries, es­says and po­etry by young North­ern writ­ers. He also de­vel­oped a close friend­ship with an­other self- taught Belfast artist, Ger­ard Dil­lon, with whom he of­ten trav­elled to Con­nemara on paint­ing trips. As out­go­ing as Dil­lon was shy, Camp­bell was a fine mu­si­cian who would later be­come an ac­com­plished flamenco gui­tarist.

In the 1960s Camp­bell was a well-known artist, a mem­ber of the Royal Hiber­nian Academy and win­ner of many pres­ti­gious awards in­clud­ing the Dou­glas Hyde Gold Medal in 1966 and the Oireach­tas Prize for Land­scape in 1969. He de­signed stained­glass win­dows for Gal­way Cathe­dral and many other churches around the coun­try.

Ne­glected fig­ure

At the height of the Ir­ish art boom, his ab­stract cityscape Dublin On A Show­ery Day made an im­pres­sive ¤65,000 at Adam’s; those days are long gone, but although Camp­bell is a ne­glected fig­ure com­pared with his friend Dil­lon, his work is still pop­u­lar. At a sale of Ir­ish and in­ter­na­tional art at Whyte’s in May, his tiny wa­ter­colour paint­ing Women Mend­ing Nets, Tar­rag­ona, Spain, sold for ¤1,500 – well above its es­ti­mate of ¤800 to ¤1,200 – while an ink draw­ing of Clif­den, Co Gal­way, fetched a healthy ¤900.

Camp­bell’s con­nec­tion with Spain was first recog­nised in 1978, when he was made a Com­man­der of the Or­der of Mer­ito Civile – a proper knight­hood – and Malaga City Coun­cil cel­e­brated his life and work in 2006 by ded­i­cat­ing the sparkling new round­about in his name.

This, in turn, in­spired Ark­low Mu­nic­i­pal District to put up a plaque at St Pa­trick’s Ter­race, mark­ing his birth­place. “It is only fit­ting,” Cllr Pat Kennedy said, “that George is now re­mem­bered in the place of his birth. The plaque un­veiled here to­day will serve as a tes­ta­ment to his life’s work and all those who visit will be re­minded of his artis­tic pas­sion and cre­ative courage that is show­cased so well in his works.”

Ab­so­lutely. But you can’t help hav­ing a sneaky sus­pi­cion that if Camp­bell’s spirit is danc­ing for joy, it’s danc­ing around Glo­ri­eta Jorge Camp­bell, un­der that glo­ri­ous blue Mediter­ranean sky.

Left, George Camp­bell, who was an ac­com­plished flamenco gui­tarist. Be­low left, Women Mend­ing Nets, Tar­rag­ona, Spain, which sold for ¤1,500 in Dublin last May

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