George Campbell, Irish artist and writer, is born on July 29, 1917, in Arklow, County Wicklow. Although he grows up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, he spends much of his adult life living and painting in Spain and Dublin.
Campbell is the son of Matthew Arthur Campbell (1866-1925), caterer, and Gretta Campbell (née Bowen) (1880-1981). He attends boarding school at Masonic Orphan Boys’ School at Clonskeagh, Dublin, before moving to Belfast to live with his widowed mother and family.
Campbell is working in an aircraft factory at the time of the Belfast Blitz, and begins to paint, taking the bomb-damage as his subject. He is one of the founders of the Irish Exhibition of Living Art in 1943. In the same year, along with his brother Arthur (1909-94), he publishes a sixteen page book entitled Ulster in Black and White, that includes drawings from the two brothers and their close contemporaries Maurice Wilks and Patricia Webb. Owing to the success of the original publication, the brothers then publish Now in Ulster (1944), an anthology of short stories, essays and poetry by young Belfast writers.
Campbell holds a joint exhibition at the William Mol Gallery, Belfast, with his brother Arthur in 1944. In the same year he also shows with Gerard Dillon at the Portadown gallery of John Lamb. In 1946 he shows with the Victor Waddington Gallery in Dublin, where he is to return on a number of occasions. The Council for the Encouragement of Art and Music hosts a solo exhibition in 1949 where he is to show twice more, in 1952 and 1960. He wins £500 at the first Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) Open Painting Competition at the Ulster Museum in 1962. Campbell also shows in one-man exhibitions with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 1966 and 1972.
After the war Campbell becomes increasingly interested in Spain. In 1946 he comes to know Spaniards who had settled in Dublin, and when in London paints visiting Spanish dancers in their traditional costume. He first visits Spain in 1951, encouraged by his friendship with Gerard Dillon and “an interest in bohemian characters.” He lives there for six months almost every year throughout much of the following twenty-five years.
Campbell makes stained glass windows for the Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas in Galway. He also plays flamenco guitar. A member of the Royal Hibernian Academy, he wins the Douglas Hyde Gold Medal in 1966 and the Oireachtas Prize for Landscape in 1969. The Spanish government makes him a Knight Commander of Spain in 1978.
Campbell dies in Dublin on May 18, 1979, and is buried at St. Kevin’s Cemetery in Glendalough, County Wicklow. He is survived by his wife Margaret, his mother, and two brothers, Arthur and Stanley. After his death the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and An Chomhairle Ealáion join with the Instituto Cervantes to initiate the George Campbell Memorial Travel Award. In May 2017, Arklow Municipal District Council unveils two plaques at St. Patrick’s Terrace, Arklow, marking Campbell’s birthplace and the centennial of his birth.
Campbell’s work forms part of many private and public art collections, including Queen’s University Belfast, Ulster Museum, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Hugh Lane Gallery, The National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland, and Municipal Museum of Antequera, Málaga.
(Pictured: “Three Nuns” by George Campbell)