A puff piece about Jon Campbell, 2000

Under circumstances I can’t recall, I was asked by the fashion/lifestyle magazine ‘HQ’ to write a short piece on Jon Campbell for their trend-spotting front section. Paul Taylor once ticked me off for being a snob about glossies—he’d offered to swing me something in ‘Vogue’ and I’d recoiled—so I thought I’d give it a shot. After submitting, I called the editor to talk about payment. Came the reply, ‘We don’t really pay for puff pieces’. Lesson learned.

What would contemporary art’s soundtrack be? Freaky jazz noodling and sub-Schoenberg dischord, if your typical po-faced Sunday Arts doco is any measure. But venture into an artist’s studio and you’re more likely to hear Stereolab, Mogwai or Smog.

In the 1950s, rock’n’roll was dismissed as a fad at best, the devil’s music at worst. Such moral panics seem quaint now, but they live on in art. Pop art rediscovered bohemianism in the nightclubs of London and New York, and the Marshall stack has replaced the masterpiece in today’s galleries, but rock’n’roll still brings out the fuddy-duddy in many an art critic. The familiar frontier between high and low culture is patrolled by border guards determined that rock’s fleeting passions will never corrupt civilization’s cool restraint.

Artists reared on 45s, music video and pub rock are happy to be star and fan, producer and consumer, performer and audience at the same time. Whether producing music themselves, or feeding off rock’s raucous energy, artists use aesthetic feedback and sampling to dance along the disputed boundary between art history and mass culture.

Jon Campbell has always liked it both ways. At art school in the mid-1980s, he played in a country/punk band, ‘The King Jerklews’ (think Hank Williams meets Lou Reed), and painted monumental canvases littered with hoons, utes and tinnies. Currently, for Campbell, being an artist means making paintings and picture discs, sketches and set lists. The union of art and music allows him to layer fantasy and the everyday

Whether performing cover versions of songs by English artist Martin Creed in ‘Adawo’ (think John Cage meets the Wiggles) or his own compositions in his new band, ‘Gloss Enamel’, Campbell sees rock making a positive contribution to his art. Being in a band involves surrendering individual to collective activity. The isolation of the painter’s studio gives way to the mutual connections of the rehearsal studio. The self-consciousness and control of high culture is abandoned; jamming, improvisation, spontaneity are retrieved. Rock allows an immediacy of audience feedback impossible in an art gallery. No one dances to a painting, after all.

Original publication: A puff piece in HQ sometime in 2000. In the absence of any record, this is ‘as-submitted’ rather than ‘as-published’.

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