Born in Arklow in 1917, George Campbell was raised in Belfast by his widowed mother, Gretta Bowen, (who herself would later became a well-known painter). During World War II, after witnessing the destruction of a section of the city by aerial bombardment, resulting in the deaths of over nine hundred civilians, Campbell felt compelled to take up painting, and record his visual impressions of the ruined buildings. He became friendly with fellow-artist Gerard Dillon, from the Falls Road, with whom he visited Connemara. Campbell’s first exhibition was held in March 1944 at the Mol Gallery in Belfast, with both he and his brother Arthur showing paintings. Together, they produced a book, Ulster in Black and White (1943). Evolving a style that was influenced by Abstraction and the School of Paris, he based his compositions on landscapes and still lives, but employed a painterly technique reminiscent of Tachisme. Campbell then spent several months in London, before having his first solo show, in 1946, at the Victor Waddington Gallery in Dublin. Two years later, he exhibited in London, in a group show that included Daniel O’Neill, Gerard Dillon and Nevill Johnson. In 1948, he was in Paris, where he got to know the Russian Modernist sculptor Ossip Zadine. Returning to Ireland, Campbell spent some time living in Connemara, in Gerard Dillon’s cottage on Inishlackan Island, near Roundstone. A long-held interest in Spain and Spanish culture led him to become a frequent visitor to Spain, from 1951 onwards, and he travelled throughout the Iberian Penninsula, painting in Catalonia, Málaga and Córdoba, and learning to play the guitar in the flamenco style. Campbell’s love affair with Spain continued over the next thirty years, inspiring both paintings that he exhibited at the Waddington Gallery, and, in later years, at the Hendriks Gallery in Dublin, and also radio broadcasts for RTÉ.
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