Abstracting Aphorisms: Jon Campbell


Jon Campbell’s practice is characterised by an avid interest in Australian vernacular, local and national iconography, popular cultural, colloquial sayings, graphic design tropes, vivid colours and negative space. The artist’s current exhibition, Jon Campbell: MCA Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, once again expands and solidifies Campbell’s interest in Australian language and aphorisms.

The exhibition features two main works: Campbell’s 2010 installation, Stacks On,and the newly commissioned wall painting, Absolutely Disgusting. Initially created for the Melbourne Art Fair, Stacks On features a choreographed collection of banners, flags and light boxes, all displaying colloquial sayings that invoke local and national landmarks, Australian suburbia, overheard conversations, personal recollections, the pub, sports and music. “I guess it’s a conversation between all these different sayings, different colours, different fonts and different type faces that were coming from different periods of recent history,” says Campbell. “You come across different things at different times as well, so the whole thing doesn’t reveal itself all at once; it happens as you physically engage with it.”

Alongside Stacks On is Absolutely Disgusting. Measuring 2.5 x 65 metres, the wall painting is Campbell’s largest work to date.

It also highlights the artist’s more recent move to working around the negative space of letters, while still creating a visual interpretation of language. “I think it’s about having to make the content visual,” explains Campbell. “It’s one thing to have Franco Cozzo as the text and then you’ve got to do something with it visually. The actual word or text or saying can influence the design of it, or alternatively, I could be working around several signs and go, ‘okay, does that fit into that design?’”

When asked about his ongoing interest in Australian vernacular and popular culture the artist says, “History is still being made, culture is still being made, language is still being made and I find that interesting. I want to find things to keep that conversation going.” For Campbell it’s less about a distinction between the lowbrow and the highbrow and is instead, as he explains, “a conscious effort to try and find a place for this stuff in the art world.”

Jon Campbell: MCA Collection
Museum of Contemporary Art Australia
4 December – 25 February 2018

Preview Words by Tiarney Miekus