Kettle Art's Latest Show Makes Twice the Impact

Amber and Frank Campagna's "Home"
Amber and Frank Campagna's "Home"

Frank Campagna is not only a talented local artist, he's also a sweet father. Last night marked the opening of the exhibition Campagna2, which includes both Frank's work and his daughter Amber's paintings as well.

I stopped by his Deep Ellum gallery, Kettle Art, to chat with the elder Campagna and see the works before the opening reception.

A single fan oscillates in the corner of the small gallery with black floors, track lighting, and exposed brick walls covered with wood painted white for hanging work.

You can easily differentiate Frank's pieces from Amber's. The majority of his work is spray painted and brightly colored. Branches, decoupaged with copies of the Deep Ellum newspaper Frank himself used to publish, bloom with red flowers and green leaves falling all around ("One, Two, Tree, Four").

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There's something lively and animated about his works; the swirling lines and floating bubbles render some pieces as tamed, indoor graffiti. Some are dotted with clouds and stars rather than leaves and flowers. They could easily stand alone, but they make a happy chorus all hanging together in the gallery.

These works are separate from his stamped work. One is a small cityscape and the other a much grander one, the latter he created with his daughter. They painted the piece on their hands and knees, he explains. "It's fun cause we're always banging heads."

They didn't use brushes. "I don't believe in using brushes," he says. "I haven't used brushes in 12 years at this point. Very little any way." They used custom made stamps to craft the work instead. The piece is marvelous and alive. You can feel a buzz coming from the canvas. It's somehow primitive while at the same time modern.

Amber Campagna's "Chomp"
Amber Campagna's "Chomp"

Amber has a number of pieces in the show, but her strongest works are her underwater scenes. A girl swimming through a school of fish ("Snorkel"). A girl swimming above a shark ("Ascension"). A girl being chased by a shark ("Bait"). And, yes, you guessed it: a girl being eaten by a shark. Frank tells us Amber has been interested in sharks since she was a little girl.

"[In] pre-Internet days, I used to take Amber to Half Price Books, and one day she came out with a book on sharks," Frank explains. "I've seen her swim with sharks too."

So if one loves sharks, why paint such threatening and even deadly scenes? Because of a desire to be devoured, perhaps? One can't really want that to happen but one has to wonder what that would be like. These pieces feel simultaneously dangerous and inviting at once.

There are 19 pieces in the collection, one of which Amber is still working on at 3 p.m. the day of the opening. This show is a big deal. It's her first duo exhibition. Previously her work had appeared only in group exhibitions.

The gallery, which has been around since 2005, gets it name from the kettle painted on the original exposed brick wall, but it also works as a nice metaphor for all of the art that is "brewed" there.

Frank is every bit the proud papa as he puts the finishing touches on the instillation. He's concerned about the details of the night, but more than that he's concerned about his daughter on her big night.

"I want to make sure Amber gets [the attention she deserves]," he says to me as I leave the gallery. "She's been working her ass off. It's a long time coming. She's been doing this her entire life. She knows how to paint."

Before I go he stops me for a moment. He suddenly gets a sly look on his face and then unbuttons the top few buttons of his shirt.

"It's all about family," he says as he lowers his shirt over his shoulder to reveal a brand new tattoo. It's a shark. "She hasn't seen it yet," he tells me. I sure would love to see her face when she does.

Campagna2 is on display at Kettle Art through October 15. The gallery is open 7 to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. Visit kettleart.com for more information.

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