A meeting in the surf decades ago has culminated in a bold new exhibition at Te Whare Toi o Heretaunga Hastings City Art Gallery.
HCAG curator Clayton Gibson, from Gisborne, met artist Brian Campbell in the water and, as the years passed, became familiar with his work.
"At that time Brian was particularly well known for his Corrugated Kingdom woodprints that I really loved, and which were followed by equally-intriguing paintings," Gibson says.
"I knew his work would look amazing in the gallery space so was delighted he agreed to become part of our exhibition programme."
The result is Campbell's show Head Above The Water, which launches on Friday at the HCAG's Holt Gallery.
Born in Christchurch, Campbell trained at Elam Art School before heading to Gisborne, where he lives in a relocated villa in a space between city and sea.
For the Head Above The Water exhibition, he has delivered some of the most substantial works of his career, taking viewers on a journey with the recurring cast of characters – along with some new ones – that he calls on to share his take on contemporary life.
In the collection of a dozen predominantly oil-on-board paintings horses, monkeys, whales and religious figures all have a part to play – and a bit to say – as the artist further develops the themes that have been the preoccupation of his career.
Back when he first met Gibson, Campbell mused upon the dangers of an overpopulated planet treated with little respect by its resident humans.
These days, without a hint of "I told you so", he looks at the consequences of that in an increasingly-warming world, climate refugees pouring into already-occupied countries as the waters flood into theirs.
At close to 2m tall, Future Man Never Goes To Mars is one of the most substantial pieces in which Campbell wonders how humankind is going to survive in a hostile world.
"I guess it is about going backwards rather than forwards," he says. "If we continue to bugger up the place we have we may have to fit into a new order, and that is not necessarily a bad thing."
Included are no fewer than three paintings that tussle with our near neighbours, the Australians.
The over-riding impression of Campbell's work is of serious subjects treated with humour and irreverence, but he is the first to say that a couple of the paintings are just, well, paintings.
In the bold forms of Muse, for example, he draws on a famous photograph of Pablo Picasso and his partner Francoise Gillot to depict the inspiration of the artist.
Elsewhere, the work Breaking Up The Band, is just as its title describes.
"Most of the time, though, I tend to be focused on how humans like to present as sophisticated but are still driven by base instincts . . . civilisation is just a veneer," he said.
Though Campbell has for years exhibited in the major centres, Head Above The Water is his first show in Hawke's Bay.
"It's been a long time since Clayton and I first met but this is the first occasion we have had to really connect over an art project," he says.
"This show is a great opportunity to do that, and to share this new work in a fantastic new space."
– All are welcome at the preview of Head Above The Water, by Brian Campbell, which opens at Hastings City Art Gallery at 5.30pm on Friday, May 7. The artist's talk will be on at the gallery the following day (11am-12 noon).