Laraine Campbell was born in Pretoria in 1941. Laraine was sister to Rodney Barkley and wife of Steven Campbell, she is also highly admired by her sister-in-law Leonie Barkley and her nephew Craig Barkley.
Leonie Barkley recalls: ”I do know that apart from her interest in still life drawings, Laraine preferred to draw using live female models. There were several women that were willing to sit for two hours at a stretch with ten minute breaks in between. Laraine gave much thought to the content of the drawing, what the model would wear and the desired props she would use. Her talent was unmistakable as she swiftly drew her outline in carbon pencil. Once the basic sketch was completed the model would leave. Laraine would only continue working on the sketch the following day, with the use of carbon pencils, charcoal and pastels. She would select a section or more of the drawing and highlight in the finest detail aspects of the garments or props that instantly brought life to the picture. She never embroidered too much, selecting with delicate care what to accentuate, which made her talent unique.
Laraine was as successful in oil painting and portraiture as she was in the human form but her preference was undoubtedly carbon pencils, charcoal and pastels. I recall noticing in her studio that she had hundreds of pencils that she used to sharpen daily and her collection of pastels was phenomenal. Her studio was her world. She could lose herself therein for days on end.
Finally Laraine would use a small quantity of turpentine and deftly manipulate the paper from one side to the other allowing the liquid to flow gently fusing the charcoal and pastels. Unmistakably, this remarkable technique became the hallmark of Laraine Campbell.”
During her earlier years Laraine moved to the U.K in the early 1960’s where she studied the flute at the Trinity College of Music, London. On returning to South Africa in the mid 60’s her major interest shifted to the visual arts and she realised she could not accommodate both the gruelling regimen of daily flute practice and also do justice to her art capabilities as well. She decided to concentrate on art but has retained a deep affection for music encompassing the classics, jazz and modern POP (especially the exciting British Contribution of the 80’s).
Laraine joined the Durban College of Art and studied under Andrew Clement Verster and even at this stage her major focus was on the human form. Later she taught life drawing at the North Coast Art Society. Her ability was first formally recognised by Art South Africa Today (1973) and she was runner-up for the Golden Rugantino in 1975, the only Natal artist accepted for the competition.
Laraine moved to Johannesburg later in the seventies and took part in the Natal Building Society Centenary Exhibition (1982) and the S.A. Association of Arts Exhibition in Pretoria (1984). For some years she digressed into etching but finally found the medium too restrictive to fully satisfy her own personal needs. However, she regards this period essential to the development of her present unique technique, which owes much to her experimentation with colour viscosity printing (a technique evolved by Stanley William Hayter at his workshop Atelier 17 in Paris). Her latest effects were created with Donna White contribution by sensitive use of pastels, carbon pencils, charcoal and discriminate application of pure turpentine on card.
Her pictures are characterised by luminous transparent colour and delicacy of line. Her obsession with the human form has recently reasserted itself and her concentration is on females although she produced still-lifes as well. Some of a best works are a combination of both. She ascribes this to the strong influence of modern writers such as Erica Jung, Marilyn French and Lisa Alther in whose work she first encountered an appreciation of the female body seen through woman’s eyes.
Laraine exhibited her work at a number of highly successful group exhibitions at the Everard Read Gallery in Rosebank. In August 1988, she had a one-man show at The Sanderling Gallery in Central Johannesburg and in October 1990 with two exhibitions at the Mall Galleries in Admiralty and Kings Road Gallery in London. Establishing herself in London by merely mailing some old invitations and other promotional material to a number of British Galleries: “ Incredibly “ she says” I had almost thirty replies and two galleries actually phoned from London!” These exhibitions was a great achievement for the artist. She adds: ” This gallery has the Royal Charter and incorporates the Royal Society of Sculptures, Painters and Water Colourist. In addition to the exhibition they have offered me membership of the Federation ofBritish Artist.”
Laraine Campbell’s work has a whimsical and tranquil beauty which attracts establishment art lovers; the London acceptance confirms this. She summarises: ‘What I learned from my subsequent trip to London to arrange these exhibitions is that the standard of South African art is high and that there is very likely a niche in such huge markets as Britain for all types of work”.
“Although I live in South Africa, I do not accept that I am an African. The cultural influences in my life have historically been Western , whether in visual art, literature or music. It was therefore important to me to gauge the level of acceptability of my work overseas”.
Laraine Campbell passed away in Johannesburg on 27th of October 2014.