The Artistic Life: Rachael McCampbell

I'm always thrilled to feature talents in the art world and today's artist won't disappoint. Sit back and enjoy my conversation with talented Nashville-based artist, Rachael McCampbell! McCampbell_StoppingByWoods2_30hx80w_Acrylic_canvas

"Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening #2" (Inspired by Robert Frost's "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.") 30"h x 80"w. Oil on Canvas

Share with us a little about your background and how it brought you to where you are today. I grew up on a farm in east Tennessee and studied art at the University of Georgia. Upon graduation, I moved to Florence, Italy where I had a job with the fashion designer Emilio Pucci. After that, I lived in New York where I studied at the New School and worked for an advertising illustrator, Braldt Bralds, plus worked in art galleries. Then I went to London where I studied at Christie’s, finally settling in Los Angeles where I lived 24 years working in the art gallery world and as a commercial artist before settling into being a full time fine artist, which is what I do today. Tennessee has always held a special place in my heart and I knew I wanted to move back here. So in 2008 I settled in the hamlet of Leiper’s Fork, which is about 10 min away from Franklin, TN, in the country. I bought a creaky, turn-of-the-century farmhouse with a big creek in the back yard, and this is where I paint. McCampbell_Waxwings_2'wx3'h_Oil_Canvas_MarchNew

 "Waxwings" (Inspired by Robert Francis' poem of the same name) 24"w x 36"h. Oil on Canvas.

I got immediately involved in the art scene here and in 2009, I had a solo show at Tinney Contemporary in downtown Nashville that was called, “Endangered Species: Nature in the Balance,” that benefited the Land Trust for Tennessee. It was about endangered and extinct species. Then in 2010, I did a solo show at the Parthenon Museum called, “Women in Mythology” which was large figurative paintings featuring the heroines of Greek myths. 2012 was a busy year as I was the official Iroquois Steeplechase artist and had a show of racing horses at Belle Meade Plantation in Nashville, plus I worked as the building contractor repairing my home from the 2010 Nashville flood. I don’t think I slept that year! Since that time, I’ve been booked painting commissions for private clientele. I am currently painting for a solo show at The District Gallery in Knoxville, Tennessee. And I am also in the process of curating a few shows of other artists' work from Los Angeles. MagnoliaHeavenMedRes

"Magnolia Heaven" (Inspired by poem entitled "The Magnolias" by Geoffrey Dutton) 30"h x 80"w. Diptych. Oil on Canvas.

Describe the mediums in which you create art. I paint both in acrylic and oil. For the most part, I like highly textured paintings. I build up the canvas with gels, pastes and acrylics and finish in oil. I sometimes draw on top of the finished art with charcoal, rediscovering the lines I began with. I often sand down and build paint back up revealing shapes and images that surprise me. I always begin with an initial design, but often it is changed entirely by the end of the process, (unless, the painting is a commission and in that case, I stick to the agreed upon sketches). It’s important to take breaks and study your art. I like to sit back with a cup of tea and let the painting tell ME what it needs instead of the other way around. InTheCurrentofEaglesMARCH20,2014

"In the Current of Eagles" (Inspired by Rachael McCampbell's poem of the same name) 24"w x 36"h. Oil on Canvas

What has drawn you to nature as the source for most of your painting inspiration? I think my years of living on a farm outside of Knoxville and spending weekends in the Smoky Mountains inform what I do. As a child the majority of my time was spent out of doors: fishing, riding horses, working in the garden, playing in the fields, woods and creeks. The nature around me, the farms, the seasons and weather, were like a third parent to me. They fed and nurtured me. Wildlife was always there and I’m sure I took it for granted. Had I known that I would live the majority of my life in large, urban cities, I would have taken more time to be appreciative of what I had. But now I am back with eyes wide open, and happily painting in an area that inspires and informs my work. McCampbell_Egrets_30x40Oil

"Egrets" (Inspired by Mary Oliver's poem of the same name) 30"h x 40"w. Oil on Canvas

Your current show in Knoxville is featuring paintings inspired by poetry. Can you explain how you are creating art using this source of inspiration? Years ago, I was accepted into a masters of writing program at Bennington College but had to turn it down to make a living as a commercial artist. I had a strong passion for writing and literature, and still do, but the majority of my time is taken up with painting now. The rich visual images that I see when I read spark my imagination like nothing else. Of course it’s often hard to settle on one image based on a poem when so many arise from a poem, or even a single line. At some point, I just have to decide on something and go with that. I think reading literature and poetry is a great tool to inspire an artist when one is stuck. I started a series, in Los Angeles, based on the poetry of a well-known poet named Suzanne Lummis, who was going to collaborate with me on an exhibition. But I didn’t get to finish it because I was committed to do a solo show in Santa Monica with large paintings of horses and had to stop the process. So I sold the pieces off, but never did the show. A side note to that story is that I did a painting based on one of her poems, which I called “Woman and Apple.” When Ms. Lummis saw that painting, she wrote another poem based on that painting. She published that poem in a book called “Ekphastia Gone Wild: Poems Inspired by Art,” which came out in 2013. I love the way the arts feed and inspire one another. MockingbirdsByMaryOliverMarch2014

 "Mockingbirds" (Inspired by Mary Oliver's poem of the same title) 30" x 30". Oil on Canvas.

After completing commissions, I was offered a solo show with the freedom to paint whatever I wanted, so I chose to go back to the theme of poetry inspired works. The owners of the District Gallery in Knoxville, Jeff and Denise Hood, were excited by this idea and have been very encouraging. The show is called “Dreamscapes: Poetry Inspired Paintings” and opens May 17, 2014 in Knoxville, TN. Some of the poets and writers who have fed my work recently are Maya Angelou, Mary Oliver, Yeats, Donald Justice, Wallace Stevens, Suzanne Lummis, Wendell Berry, E.E. Cummings, Robert Francis and Raymond Carver.

blueWinter_McCampbell_16x20h"Blue Winter" (Inspired by Robert Francis' poem of the same name) 16"w x 20"h. Oil on Canvas.

Blue Winter by Robert Francis

Winter uses all the blues there are.
 One shade of blue for water, one for ice,
 Another blue for shadows over snow.
 The clear or cloudy sky uses blue twice-
 Both different blues. And hills row after row
 Are colored blue according to how far.
 You know the bluejay's double-blur device
 Shows best when there are no green leaves to show.
 And Sirius is a winterbluegreen star.

Do you work on commission and where can we see more of your work?

I do work on commission quite often. I enjoy that process a great deal. It’s fun to personalize art for the client. Sometimes, each bird or flower or landscape holds a specific meaning for them. If the 3 birds in the painting represent their children, for example, then the art is dearer to the client for that reason. The largest commission I’ve done was in 2012. It was 4’ high by 14’ long painting of horses running through the sky with a Scottsdale, Arizona landscape below. I went to Kentucky to take pictures of my thoroughbred subjects (their horses) and to meet the clients, then flew out with them to see their winter home in Park City, and to see the wall where they wanted the art to hang. It was good to see the environment, and go to art galleries with them to see and hear what they responded to in art. I was able to learn what was important for them in the painting by spending time there with them. They loved the finished product, thank goodness! I show my work by appointment in Leiper’s Fork, on my website and of course, there will be this show in Knoxville inspired by poetry May 17th, 2014. I will put that series on my website in May 2014. I will also have work on view at Regions Bank in Franklin, 121 First Ave South, Franklin, TN 37064, at the next art crawl, Friday night, June 6th at 6 pm. WhiteOwlFliesIntoAndOutofFieldNewest

"White Owl Flies Into and Out of Field" (Inspired by Mary Oliver's poem of the same name). 30"w x 40"h. Oil on Canvas.


Thank you, Rachael! Your work is truly inspiring. For more information about Rachael and her work, see below:

LookingoutWindowStudo copy


(All images courtesy of Rachael McCampbell. All paintings by Rachael McCampbell)

Photo of Rachael McCampbell by Ron Manville.