Charles Campbell (1915-2014)

October 9, 2014 § 1 Comment

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

Glenna Putt | Charlie Listening to Music (2000)

By KENNETH BAKER
San Francisco Chronicle

Charles Campbell, a San Francisco gallery owner who represented major Bay Area contemporary artists for more than 60 years, died of natural causes Friday [October 3, 2014] at his San Francisco home. He was 99.

Mr. Campbell became famous locally for showing what he liked, irrespective of fashion or potential profit. He happened to admire and exhibit many artists later identified with the region’s signature art movement, Bay Area Figuration. They included Nathan Oliviera (1928-2010), Paul Wonner (1920-2008), Gordon Cook (1927-85), Theophilus “Bill” Brown (1919-2012), James Weeks (1922-98) and Joan Brown (1938-90).

The back room at Mr. Campbell’s gallery was long known to locals as a treasure trove of artistic miscellany. There visitors might pore over an ever-changing array of works on paper and small paintings by American and European artists both famous and obscure, interspersed with Indian miniatures and the odd pre-Columbian or African artifact.

Nothing comparable exists, or perhaps could exist, in the supercharged and economically polarized art market of today.

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Right place, right time

November 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

Nathan Oliveira | Chas (1963)

REVIEW | JEROME TARSHIS

Partly because it is exhibited in a gallery made up of several small rooms, partly because of the preferences that inform the collection of Charles and Glenna Campbell, visiting the show titled “Treasures” — now on view at the Thomas Reynolds Gallery — is almost eerily reminiscent of visiting Charlie’s gallery.

In 1947, when Charlie brought his love of jazz up from Los Angeles and opened a frame shop near the school now known as the San Francisco Art Institute, he was in the right place at the right time. Abstract Expressionism was being born, soon to be followed by the Bay Area Figurative Movement. Both styles featured an informal, spontaneous handling of paint, and the artists saw an obvious likeness between their way of working and the improvisation within defined limits that was typical of jazz.
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The accidental dealer

October 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Photograph of Charles Campbell by Matt Gonzalez

By PETER STEINHART

Charles Campbell stands in his small Potrero Hill living room looking up at a painting. It has been in the house for years, one of dozens he believed in, bought or traded for, and held onto. The walls around him are clamorous with paintings, most of them by artists who became famous partly through Charlie’s efforts. There are Diebenkorns, Oliveiras, Wonners, Weekses and Thiebauds. Each one has deep personal associations. They’re all old friends, guests at his party.

This one he has just moved from another wall and been installed over the fireplace, where he can have a long last conversation with it. For it is about to leave. He has just sold it to a Silicon Valley entrepreneur for close to $2 million dollars. Charlie stands before it like a father before a son he is about to send off into the world: appraisingly but proud.

A San Francisco art dealer for six decades, Charlie asks me not to divulge the name of the painting, its price or its buyer. Discretion is an essential condition of dealing with wealth. But right now Charlie is clearly bragging. He poses, bird-like, hawk-nosed, chin up, gray sweat pants all but falling off his rail-thin hips, and it is a posture of triumph as if to say: “I wasn’t given a lot of advantages, but how do you like me now, world?” And then, his gaze shuffles behind his thick eyeglasses, his chin lowers and something softens in him and you see he is sad at parting with an old friend.

Charlie doesn’t look much like a gallery man. He doesn’t seem to calculate your social standing or your net worth as you walk in his door. He hasn’t got a day of academic training, has never taken a college art history course. No ascot, no fancy suit, no monocle. If you entered his gallery, he would not stand over your shoulder lecturing about the artist or the painting or how the painting’s value is expected to grow. “I always felt, look, I’ll put up what I think is the best stuff and you come and look at it and make your own decision,” he told interviewer Joan Bossart. It’s up to the people who come into his gallery to decide what the paintings are about.

There is a common man quality to him. His close friend Wayne Thiebaud calls him “the accidental dealer.” Unlike most of his gallery competitors, he backed into the business, with no preconceived idea of the nobility of art or its patrons. And one gets the impression that he did it not for beauty or wealth or social standing, but because he has always taken pleasure in sharing the enjoyment he gets out of life.

— excerpted from The Accidental Dealer by Peter Steinhart, copyright 2011.

A friendly, mellow magic shop

September 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

Nathan Oliveira (left) was the first artist Charles Campbell exhibited at his gallery.

AN APPRECIATION | BARBARA JANEFF

After an adventurous childhood in Siberia and Shanghai, followed by college and military service in Southern California, Charles Campbell moved north to San Francisco in 1947 and opened the Louvre framing and art supply store near the California School of Fine Arts, now the San Francisco Art Institute. Art students on the GI Bill — David Park, Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and many others — used his shop for supplies and socializing, sometimes trading a drawing for a tube of rare French oil paint. Framing for the major local museums provided a hands-on art education.

When he came to San Francisco, “All I knew about art was Art Tatum,” said Campbell, who had been the legendary blind pianist’s driver for a time in L.A. He was mad for jazz, and relished being part of the post-war creative boom in the haunts of North Beach. At night he managed Turk Murphy’s band at the Italian Village and palled around with traditional jazz types like Lu Watters.

“Both painting and jazz have to do with improvisation,” Campbell said. “Jazz musicians are improvisers, and of course painters are. They’re always working on paintings and changing them.”

By 1950, Campbell had begun hanging occasional shows of local artists in the Louvre’s front room. He was an early advocate of Bay Area Figurative work, which was evocative of place and rich with human connection. He learned to trust his instincts, showed and collected what moved him, and befriended many artists and collectors.
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