It seems almost counterintuitive that Tammi Campbell, a 39-year-old artist who lives and works in Saskatoon, would consider New York painter Frank Stella to be one of her forebears. But the idea is not farfetched. Stella led the Emma Lake Artists’ Workshops in 1967, five years after the art critic Clement Greenberg made his first crazily influential appearance at this woodsy summer outpost of the University of Saskatchewan. The now-renowned Stella, who was working on his Protractor series at the lake, was 31. Campbell was not yet born. She ran into Stella later on, when she encountered him in art-history class as the maker of works pictured in exhibition catalogues, books and digital images on the Internet, and hung in art galleries and museums. Stella, a Modernist wunderkind hailed as a game-changing innovator, had made his mark with his radically reductive Black Paintings (1958–60) before he reached the age of 25. He didn’t click with the artists at Emma Lake that summer. However, he was the first artist whose work had a direct impact on Campbell, even though it was many years after the fact.
“He was one of the artists I felt was speaking a language I could feel my way through at the time, working from one step to another,” Campbell says. Her first works to signal Stella’s influence were the ones she made in 2009, in the series Pre Post-Painterly. The 16.5-feet-long Pre Post-Painterly (After Stella), which is based loosely on the chevron forms, composed of nesting V-shaped stripes, in Stella’s Notched-V series (1964). Pre Post-Painterly (After Stella) is also the first painting in which Campbell wields her invention of trompe l’oeil “masking tape,” a concoction of acrylic colours, gel, chalk-and-marble dust and graphite, as a conceptual tool. The work presents itself as an unfinished Stella that has been taped off in preparation for applying paint to the narrow stripes, while in fact the “tape” is the only paint you see. Full of contradictions in relation to an actual Stella, Campbell’s work plays on Stella’s famous statement that “What you see is what you see” —Nancy Tousley, Is What You See Really What You See?, Canadian Art Magazine, Spring 2014.