Imperfection & Memento Mori Series


"Tammi Campbell’s Imperfection paintings initially seduce with formal pleasures: a woozy, out-of-focus depth and more literal, milky shadows. But the ways in which the pasty ochers and minty greys and blues bleed below a pale epidermis evoke something more sinister beneath the aesthetic. The stains that throb and spread under translucent wax layers are bruises. Campbell is not just inspired by the body, she makes direct, visceral records of it. But even these impressions are also metaphors. She hopes the bruises will inspire a more general meditation on memory. Skin is more forgiving than the mind; bruises heal sooner than memories of the violence. Campbell clarifies her intent by suggesting that these works are about ”the idea of the temporality of existence.” This makes them a species of memento mori, the still life genre that reminds viewers of their eventual demise. Bruises, like our bodies, will inevitably fade.


But what is to be said of paintings that arrest this process, that preserve and suspend these stages of pain and healing? Memento mori paintings ironically announce the temporality of life while preserving it an enduring image. By visually freezing the bruises, Campbell is making an experimental document that exceeds the body’s memory and comes closer to the duration of the mind’s recall and, in fact, persists even longer. As portraits, these paintings are mnemonic devices that strain to preserve lives."
-David Garneau, Moving Beyond Words, 2004


In both the Memento Mori series and Imperfection series, I reference Modernism obliquely—initially paintings appear to fall within a Modernist framework. Upon close inspection, however, sensual layers of oil paint reveal themselves as bodily bruises, infecting the purity of abstraction by introducing reference to the body. Not only was I manipulating paint to infer a bruise visually, but also technically by experimenting with the physical material of oil paint. By utilizing fugitive paint pigments and binding agents that are unstable, these paintings change colour, darken, or fade over time—replicating the physical changes in pigmentation that a bruise takes.


Paintings from the Imperfection series can be found in the the Saskatchewan Arts Board and Mendel Art Gallery permanent collections.