Stained glass ceiling in a condominium complex in Nagoya
Interview in Shanghai for a Chinese Art Magazine.
DR. William Campbell你好！感谢您接受我们的采访。我们是中国江苏《现代画报》杂志，我们对您和您的艺术创作很感兴趣，有一些问题想得到您的解答，以下是这些成熟或不成熟的提问：
Dear Dr. William Campbell, it’s a great honor for us that you are willing to accept our interview. We are from 现代画报and are very interested in your artistic works. We hope that you can answer some questions from us:
First, as a rational scientist, how did you develop a strong interest in abstract art, which requires emotional involvement and aesthetic appreciation?
I have been painting and drawing all my life and never found there to be any conflict between rationality and aesthetics. Intuition and aesthetics play a significant role in both science and the arts. One of our brain functions is problem solving and we use this feature to solve problems in laboratories whether they be science labs or art studios. One of the things I have always noted is that we approach a problem, scientific or artistic with a set of rules defined by the particular field, i.e. music composition, architecture, design of a scientific experiment. Then somewhere along the way we have to be present for discovery to happen. The unexpected happens in science or arts and we have to be present to grab it. For example in art we may begin with an idea to use a certain color combination and composition. We begin to create the work and as we proceed, somewhere along the way, our unconscious processes begin to work suggesting changes that we could not have anticipated from the initial set of rules. Intuition guides us and we create the unexpected. The important thing is to be present and to be engaged in the process. We cannot create great work in science or art simply by thinking about it. We have to begin to cut the stone so to speak.
Second, in your paintings, you incorporate biochemical formulas, codes and signs, and even series of mystic numbers. What is the relationship between these scientific elements and your personal expression?
An American artist, popular in the 1940’s was Saul Steinberg. He said, “ Doodling is the brooding of the mind”. I always loved that statement. Since I was a child I always doodled (small unconscious drawings) in the margins of copybooks, notebooks, napkins etc. These unconscious doodles are “ uncontrived” and originate from our unconscious, which is a far vaster region of the mind than our conscious minds. These kinds of drawings will include many different influences in our lives including the scientific notation, symbols etc. that you can see in some of my work. For many years I tried to paint directly in this fashion but never could achieve the spontaneity and uncontrived feeling of the doodles. I became fascinated by the idea of using these to create compositional works in the following way: I collected hundreds of these painted drawings and began to cut them up into pieces and arrange them in compositions by bonding them with acrylic polymer to canvas. I included these in abstract collages of my work that also include cut up pieces of actual abstract paintings. I began to see over the years that paintings done with “intent” were not as beautiful as when these paintings were cut up into pieces and re-arranged. It was as if the conscious part of the work was minimized and the unconscious content of the pictures emerged. When I studied oriental calligraphy, I once looked at a series of black ink characters that I made and was not satisfied with the result. I cut up the images into pieces and found the individual pieces to be much more beautiful and actually had an exhibition at Nagoya City Art Museum of these cut up and re=arranged calligraphy drawings.
Third, you use some synthesized material and unique techniques distinguished from those deployed by average abstract artists. Why do you choose these material and techniques and what’s the relationship between them and your personal expression?
Marcel Duchamp in the 1930s made the point that it was time for art to be about the idea and not the materials. I have used all techniques employed by abstract artists over the years but have evolved my own personal way of expression that I do not hold onto. In other words I am open to anything that may come up and would go with it if it suited my feeling or more importantly was the best material to reflect the idea. The best way for me to do this is to fill a studio with as many kinds of materials as possible and allow the imagination to construct works of art from them. While I love being in art supply stores and can spend hours looking at paints, paper, canvas etc. I find that places like hardware stores, junkyards, construction sites, recycling depots, offer more to think about in terms of creating novel works.
Fourth, does your creative inspiration come from your scientific research, for example, from similar images in the lens of microscope?
I suppose that some of the elements come from images seen in a microscope but that would only be a small component. The elements come from a totality of what one sees from day to day and is stored in our minds. When images are created it seems to be similar to how dreams are formed, taking elements from many things we see and experience on a daily basis and over periods of time.
Fifth, who is your favorite abstract painter? Have you ever been influenced by other artists in your artistic creation?
I have been influenced by many artists and have read many biographies of great artists from the past to present. It is difficult to say who is my favorite abstract painter because many of them have influenced me in different ways. For example Robert Motherwell played a significant role in influencing me not only because of his work but also his writings. Josef Albers played a great role in teaching me color theory and I treasure all his writings for teaching me the basics of color interaction and how to change the rules. I spent many years studying and playing with color interaction, ultimately allowing me to acquire an intuitive feel for developing a personal color palate, which by the way also changes over time. A list of favorite modern artists would include: Motherwell, Stella, deKooning, Avery, Kline, Albers, Frankenthaler, Johns, Twombly, Basquiat, Miro, Picasso, Reinhart, Hoffman, Rothko, Newman, Still and Calder. There are many more if you include the Renaissance painters and so many great artists of the past.
Sixth, according to a study by a professor at Michigan State University, the possibility of Nobel Science Laureates engaged in singing, dancing and performing activities is 25 times higher than that of average scientists, in literary creative activity, 12 times higher, and in craftsmanship, 8 times higher. Do you believe that engagement in arts can enhance scientific creativity? How would you describe the relationship between arts and science?
I strongly believe that engagement in arts enhances scientific creativity and that both activities complement each other. After all, we have one brain and the more we use it for variety, there cannot help but be a useful interaction. Remember, one of the greatest artists and scientists of all time was Leonardo da Vinci. Look at his achievements in art and science!!
Seventh, which identity do you prefer, scientist or artist? Why?
I suppose that I most strongly prefer to be considered an artist. I think that is because the joy of discovery happens more often, actually on a daily basis as you are working in the studio. Wonderful surprises are constantly happening. In science this happens less often and much more work is necessary, sometimes years in fact.