Sunday, 27 January 2013

Campbell Grant

By the time Campbell Grant arrived at Santa Barbara in 1930, things were not looking good for the school of arts and crafts there. It was a private institution, enrolment was down due to the Depression and the British principal, Frank Morley Fletcher, was somewhere near resigning  his post. But apparently there was time between his arrival and Fletcher's departure for Los Angeles, for Grant to learn how to make colour woodcut, in that immaculate American manner, from this one-time British master.

I say apparently because there is a mis-match between the dates I have and the ones provided by US print dealers. I don't know how long Campbell was there. He had won a scholarship at San Francsico College of Arts and Crafts but the two prints above suggest different things he would have learned from Fletcher. Firstly, it was how to print with great skill. Despite the name of the school, Grant certainly doesn't follow Fletcher's old arts and crafts manner, where brushstrokes show. Nor is there an obvious attempt at bokashi. It isn't at all easy to work out how he achieved the graduation of tone in the top print or the mottled effect you see towards the bottom. But he was far from the only artist who had nominally studied under Fletcher to go in for similar, more modern, effects.

Secondly, he seems to have picked up Fletcher's habit of setting small figures in the landscape. It probably makes more sense in the United States than it does in the Lake District and Grant was better at it than his teacher. Even so, it gives a miniature effect as if he were model-making. Fletcher had not made prints for many years before he embarked on his short series of California prints in 1927, so probably Grant arrived in the nick of time. But none of the prints you see here have either dates or titles and I have to assume that colour woodcut was only a phase in Grant's long career. After Santa Barbara, he spent twelve years at Anaheim, working as an animator for Disney.

Some of the prints certainly look like applications for the job (if he hadn't got it already). They also show how fluent he had become. He can shift from an image like the one above that harks back to the Vienna Secession as a touchstone, and then on to mode Japan, or go from expressionist to folksy with ease. It is all there, and American, and necessary for successful commercial illustrators. Admittedly there are some who have one style, but it is never exactly their own.

All the prints, except the last, come from Annex Galleries, appropriately at Santa Rosa (all are sold). The last is from Parniani Fine Art. My thanks are due to them. It costs them to run a website; it cost me nothing.


  1. Charles,

    very interesting post! You are right, Grant is remarkably flexible: The first print could be an exlibris by Emil Orlik, the last one a Wesley Dow. But graphically the most stunning to me is the fish-print!


  2. Now, that's an astute comment about Orlik because Fletcher and Orlik were friends and he once sat in on Orlik's classes in Berlin. Presumably he showed Orlik's work to students like Grant in California.

  3. Oh -- lovely. Thank you. And just as proof of my dwindling brain cells, I ran a couple of these myself, back in 2009, and wrote him up much as you did!

  4. Oakland High, where he went to school, is only down the road from you, but nobody in California seems to know that much about him and these are the only woodcuts I could find, apart from a couple of thumbnails.