The Dubious Luxury of Ordinary Men


The meaning behind Philip Campbell’s title to his series “The Dubious Luxury of Ordinary Men” is as ambiguous and open-ended as the title suggests. Campbell explicates, “The show contains a series of short stories, my stories, your stories, male ego stories.” Each of these wood panels, 1.75 inches deep, carved and painted with acrylics, depicts a scene that can be interpreted many ways. The subjects of these scenes, such as that of a crowned black bird nobly laid to rest on a bower bed of white lilies, come across as simultaneously absurd and serious, playful and foreboding—more symbolic than documentary. Campbell calls them fables, which I think seems fitting, since their whimsical and slightly ominous quality reminds me of a fairytale. Flowers, birds, a donkey, crowns, flames, a goat, hands, a knife can be read in a variety of ways or enjoyed solely for the eye-arresting compositions, colors, and amusing juxtapositions.


Like the historical origin and subject of fairytales, Campbell’s medium is resonant of medieval wood relief sculptures that add weight to these pieces. Even so, Campbell disrupts the gravity of the medium with bright colors and tongue-in-cheek subject matter. “I use a kind of anecdotal humor to tell my fables, like I am laughing at myself and inviting others to laugh at themselves too,” he explains. Maybe it’s best to read them as the premise of a personal joke or a tall tale.

“The Dubious Luxury of Ordinary Men” opens in the Harrison Gallery on Friday, May 6 with an artist reception from 6 to 10pm. The work hangs through May 27.