SPANISH TOWN HONOURS IRISH PAINTER WITH STREET TRIBUTE
George Campbell 100th birthday commemorative anniversary. He was an Irish painter who made Spain his second home and was honoured by having a street named after him in his adopted town of Malaga. He was being commemorated in Arklow Ireland. This was the unveiling of a plaque at St Patricks terrace where he was born. As a very well known artist and writer his connection with Spain was also significant that the Spanish government made him a Knight Commander of Spain in 1978 and there is a square in Malaga Andalucia province dedicated to Campbell’s memory, Glorieta Jorge Campbell.
Though he grew up in Belfast, he spent much of his adult life living and painting in Spain. His work was revered around the world and he had many notable achievements, including being the founder of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943. He studied in Belfast and later at La Grande Chaumiere in Paris. Among the prizes won during his career are: the Douglas Hyde Award for the best historical painting (1966) and Oireachtas landscape prize. His connections with Spain are extensive. In 1977 he exhibited at the Galeria Kreisler in Madrid. He gave many talks on art and Spain for the BBC and for Spanish radio and TV. His work is exhibited in the Irish Embassy in Madrid and the Museum of Fine Arts in Malaga.
Born on July 29, 1917, at 3, St Patrick’s Terrace (formerly King’s Terrace), George was the son of Gretta Bowen and Matthew Campbell. Campbell died in Dublin in 1979 and is buried with his wife Madge in St Kevin’s Church, Laragh. Cllr Pat Kennedy said: ‘It is only fitting that George is now remembered in the place of his birth. The plaque unveiled here today will serve as a testament to his life’s work and all those who visit will be reminded of his artistic passion and creative courage that is showcased so well in his works.’
| He became so attached to Spain that he began to look and behave like a native son of Andalucia as the years went on. His great talent as a painter, first displayed in the largely indifferent Belfast of his youth in the early 1940s, flowered brilliantly among the Flamenco dancers and musicians, fishermen and Matadors of Southern Spain. His passion for the region and the work it inspired, found a ready acceptance among the people and those who had the money to buy bought. Not surprisingly, most of the work now on display in a retrospective exhibition in Malaga has been collected from around the area; only a few pieces had to be sent from Ireland.
George was drawn to Spain in the early 1950s, long before the days of mass tourism. He persuaded his fellow Belfast artist, Gerard Dillon, to travel with himself and his wife Madge. “We went third-class rail all the way,” Madge recalls, “down through France and into Spain, on the Barcelona, Tarragona, Valencia, Granada, Malaga, and ended up in a little fishing village just east of Malaga called Pedregalejo.”
THE FRANCO ERA
It was the days when Franco ruled with Iron fist. Strangers were viewed with suspicion by the authorities. When George and Gerard went down to the shoreline to sketch they were quickly surrounded by armed soldiers and ordered to desist. Eventually they learned they had to obtain licences from the local police, allowing them to draw and paint at will.After that George and Madge returned to spend every winter in Spain, always in Pedregalejo. It was then a small fishing village, a village that has now been smothered by a vast tourist campsite of the million and one skyscrapers of the Costa del Sol.It had two great assets for a painter: the light was marvellous and cost of living was low. Sardines bought for a few coins from the local boats were frequent visitors to the table. “At times I felt like a mobile cat-food factory,” George used to quip.
He never tired of Spain, but decided to pursue his art in London. There were six or so lean years in a small flat off Maida Vale. Friends persuaded the Irish Club in Eaton Square to let George and his friend Dillon have the use of a room free of charge to exhibit their paintings. They did not sell much and on one busy night patrons of the club found the paintings useful for hanging their coats on before proceeding across the hall to the bar.
George found little inspiration in London and visited Spain as often as money and opportunity allowed. In a BBC television programme years later he recalled: “I couldn’t handle London, didn’t want to draw it. There was too much of everything.” Spain was his country and Spain encapsulated him.It ignited his imagination and fired his energy. His painting explored the many aspects of its exuberant life- the bullfights, the dancers, gypsies, fishermen, market women, religious processions and, time after time, the Flamenco guitarists.
He became fluent in the language and highly skilled at playing the guitar-he was one of the few foreigners who was recognised as an equal by the Flamenco musicians of Andalucia. His love of the music was so intense that he got his guitars hand-crafted by masters in the Sierra Nevada. Once, after he had returned from Spain to settle in Dublin, at a party in this house in Ranelagh he had an argument with another great lover of Spain, the journalist Seamus Kelly about who was the best guitar maker in Andalucia. It was no gentle exchange of views; it was a passionate debate between two men of knowledge and conviction. Neither would yield and eventually Seamus stormed out of the house. They did not speak to each other again for about five years.
George’s long attachment to Spain was formally recognized by the Spanish Government in 1978 when he was made a Commander with the Insignia and Privileges of the Order of the Merito Civile, the equivalent of the knight-hood.
A year later he died suddenly in Dublin. The following year, in a rare hands-across-the border gesture, delicately engineered by the founder and then director of the Spanish Cultural Institute in Dublin, Antonio Sierra, the arts councils of the Republic and of Northern Ireland joined with the institute in establishing the George Campbell Memorial Travel Award. This annual bursary alternates between the North and South of Ireland and allows Irish artists to live and work for a period in Spain.
The vitality of George’s paintings of daily life in Andalucia are now illuminating the walls of Ámbito Cultural Gallery in the prestigious ‘El Corte Inglés’ department store in Malaga. A few streets away, four of his friends and fellow artists, Manus Walsh of Clare and George Walsh of Dublin, Stefan Von Reizwitz of Germany and Enrique Perez Almeda of Spain, are holding a joint exhibition in tribute to George in the Pablo Ruiz Gallery in Malaga. Both exhibitions will run until the end of September 2017
GEORGE CAMPBELL MEMORIAL TRAVEL AWARD
This was instituted to celebrate the strong cultural contact which Irish artist George Campbell developed with Spain, and is made specifically to allow for a period of work in Spain. It is funded by the Arts Council/An Chomhairle Ealaíon, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the Spanish Cultural Institute/Instituto Cervantes. The award is offered to one person and is administered on alternate years by the two Arts Councils. In 2002 the award will be made by the Arts Council. Dublin, the local council voted unanimously to pay tribute to George Campbell. They agreed to name a street Jorge – pronounced Horhe – Campbell, which was how the local people knew him. I think he had Spanish blood in him.” She singled out praise for their friend Antonio Sierra for the tribute. She said her husband was honoured in 1978 by the Spanish government for his contribution to Spain and that Mr Sierra was behind that as well. After Mr Campbell’s sudden death from a brain haemorrhage, Mr Sierra got the arts councils to set up an award of L 1,270 for students and artists in honour of Mr Campbell.
“George was absolutely unique, a real character. I still remember when we go for drinks in Dublin. After a while you see people taking chairs and you have 10-15 people around George. He’s telling jokes, and he tells them in such a good way,” Mr Sierra said.
Mr Campbell, died in 1979, aged 61. He spent five months of every year of his last 17 years in Malaga Spain.