What is The New Yorker? I know it’s a great magazine and that it’s a tremendous source of pleasure in my life. But what exactly is it? This blog’s premise is that The New Yorker is a work of art, as worthy of comment and analysis as, say, Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn.” Each week I review one or more aspects of the magazine’s latest issue. I suppose it’s possible to describe and analyze an entire issue, but I prefer to keep my reviews brief, and so I usually focus on just one or two pieces, to explore in each the signature style of its author. A piece by Matthew Trammell is not like a piece by James Wood, and neither is like a piece by Peter Schjeldahl. One could not mistake Finnegan for Frazier, or Lepore for Paumgarten, or Goodyear for Khatchadourian. Each has found a style, and it is that style that I respond to as I read, and want to understand and describe.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Peter Campbell (April 16, 1937 - October 25, 2011)

This is my tribute to Peter Campbell, who died October 25, 2011. Campbell worked for the London Review of Books from its inception, in 1979, as designer, illustrator, and art reviewer. He was a brilliant contemplator of art. As Mary-Kay Wilmers says, in her tribute to Campbell (“Diary,” London Review of Books, November 17, 2011), his pieces about exhibitions “take you with him into the gallery.” His art writing was, for me, a great source of pleasure. His connection with The New Yorker is non-existent, but I often read him in conjunction with pieces I’d read in the magazine. See, for example, my posts “Norman Rockwell: Campbell v. Schjeldahl v. Updike” (February 7, 2011) and “Werner Herzog’s ‘Cave of Forgotten Dreams’: 3 Reviews” (June 9, 2011). The origin of my interest in his writing traces back to his review of a Joan Eardley exhibition that appeared in the December 13, 2007, LRB, titled “At the National Gallery of Scotland.” I have a clipping of it here in front of me as I write this. It’s filled with my underlinings. I love descriptions of art. The Eardley piece contains several beauties, including this inspired line: “de Kooning in America made pictures in which the bones of an unseen landscape seem to direct the reading of a field of abstract marks.” How fine that “bones of an unseen landscape”! The clinching review – the one that made me a devoted follower of his LRB columns – is the one he did on the Tate Modern exhibition “Rothko: The Late Series” (“At Tate Modern,” London Review of Books, October 23, 2008). I have that clipping here in front of me, as well. Looking at one of Rothko’s great red-on-maroon Seagram murals, he says, “It is as if the picture was a radiator the heat of which drives you back.” Campbell also had an appreciative eye for items of material culture (e.g., the “bicornual” basket from the rain forests of north-eastern Queensland, which he noted in his piece “At the British Museum,” London Review of Books, June 16, 2011, as follows: “Its sculptural curves are emphasized by the way the strands of cane from which it is made follow swelling contours. It is a wonderful, evolved design”). In 2009, At …, a rich collection of Campbell’s art writings was published. I count it among my favorite books.

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