It must be a lot of pressure to live up to the superlative of one of DC’s “most interesting people.” But Lenny Campello, our judge for this year’s Paint the Town Labor Day Show, never fails to provide.
We sat down to chat with Lenny, posing five random art questions to him:
MAA: Who was your most memorable art instructor or mentor, and why?
Lenny Campello: Jacob Lawrence at the University of Washington School of Art. Lawrence was one of the greatest American artists of the 20th century and a great teacher. But what I learned from him was to be opinionated, and the power of an opinion.
MAA: Tell us about the first time you won an award at an art show.
LC: I was still in art school, and I entered a drawing from what I then called "Mujertrees Series" and later renamed "Daphne Series." It won the 1979 First Prize (Drawing) awarded by the Renton Art Society of Renton, Washington. I was deliriously happy for an entire year after that!
MAA: What tips would you provide a new or newish artist on how to build your confidence?
LC: Artists must have a thick skin. The trite saying "art is in the eyes of the beholder" is immensely accurate. That means that if a juror or collector or your aunt Naomi doesn't like your artwork, it is their opinion and or taste and nothing else.
As an artist produces and creates new work, and that art is disseminated (sold, traded, given away, etc.) it remains behind as an artistic footprint of the artist—the more artwork an artist produces over a lifetime, the larger the "leave behind" footprint is. That means that decades and decades, or even centuries after the artist is gone, his/her work remains behind as creative evidence of a person who once created artwork.
Also, do not be a hermit - go to openings, see lots of artwork, soak in artsyness, visit an art fair -- see what others are doing and let your inner critic tell you how your work stacks up.
MAA: What do you look for compositionally when you judge art?
LC: I look for fear of empty space (what in art is called "horror vacui"). If used, does it work (for me)? Or the opposite: Does negative space work well (for me)?
Honestly, composition can really rock a work of art, but it is a distant second to mastery over the media. As watercolorists know, the difference between a good watercolor painter and a great watercolor painter is that a great watercolor painter knows how to use his/her mistakes.
MAA: And the age-old question: When you personally are making art, what tells you a piece is finished?
LC: I've never struggled with that issue, which seems to affect painters more than any other artists. When I work on a piece, I'm always sort of seeing it "finished" as I finish it, if that makes sense.