Sandra Jones Campbell: Comfortable with change 

By SAMANTHA WASHER

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Sandra Jones Campbell was making her way up the coast of California when she and her then husband stopped in Laguna Beach. The Patriots’ Day Parade was going on and Campbell says, “This (Laguna Beach) just felt right. It’s like everyone who comes here and they say it’s like they’ve come home.”  Apparently, it still feels right since that was 30 years ago and Campbell is still here.

An exhibitor at the Festival of Arts since 1988

Back then she was an established artist from Portland, Oregon, looking for a new audience for her work. Laguna Beach offered her that and more.  

“This seemed like a place I could blossom. You get to a place in your career where you have to make a change,” she explains.  

An artist who specialized in watercolors, Campbell says she changed to water-based oils because she was developing a “more fluid kind of style.” If you pay any attention to the Laguna art scene -- or even if you don’t -- you have undoubtedly seen Campbell’s German Expressionistic-inspired, bustling political and social scenes.

Represented locally by the Pacific Edge Gallery as well as an exhibitor at the Festival of the Arts since 1988, Campbell’s work is a familiar sight. Publicly, her work has been used for the Festival’s banner. 

“The Festival has been good for me and good to me,” she says. Campbell was also commissioned to paint a mural in downtown Laguna. When you see her work, you know it’s hers.  

Local artist Sandra Jones Campbell in her studio

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Old photographs and “714”

“I love old photographs,” she says emphatically. Campbell says she has hundreds of photos that inform her work. 

Another somewhat unlikely influence was a free magazine called “714” that people in Orange County found in their driveways back in the late ‘80’s. It had photos from different social happening around town and, Campbell says, “It was perfect for my figurative style. I started noticing the social scene here. It was very different than Portland,” she says as we laughed about those days of big hair and big…everything.  Seeing it as somewhat of an outsider allowed her to appreciate it while seeing it with a critical eye.  

She says her work isn’t “quite satire, but…”  The “but” is telling.  While Campbell describes her paintings as “pretty” they are much more than that. 

A tattoo artist and a barrel racer

While Campbell is known for her paintings depicting social events, her work isn’t all cocktail parties and bar scenes. She lived on a ranch in eastern Oregon for many years and images from those days can also be found in her work. 

“The ranch was heaven for the kids,” explains Campbell of living there with her son and daughter. “But it was stifling for me as an artist.” However, the “shadow of cowboys and images from the Oregon trail” are things she says she can “slip back into very comfortably.”  

Interestingly, her children followed two distinct passions from those days in the ranch.  Campbell’s son is now a tattoo artist who, she says, “is a much better illustrator than I am.”  

Her daughter fell in love with horses and barrel racing.  Campbell says that there were a lot of people working at the ranch, which meant there were a lot of built-in baby sitters.  One of them was a cowboy who taught her daughter to ride at an early age and she was hooked.

Being called an artist just felt right

Campbell herself was hooked at an early age on the idea of being an artist.  She recalls being in third grade and one of her classmates saying, “’Let Sandra do it. She’s the artist.’  When they said that it just felt right.”  

Back then she says she was drawing hydroplanes.  “I was exploring movement,” she remembers with a laugh.  “By the time I was done with high school I’d had a lot of opportunities. I went to a camp that was like ‘Fame’ -- in 1964!” she says.

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Sandra Jones Campbell blends into one of her paintings

A need for change

A constant in Campbell’s career is her willingness to seek out change. “I went back to school in 1980,” she says. “I’d been painting romantic, pastoral women. I was bored with them. So I went back to school and studied with James Kirk (at Western Oregon State College). I spent an entire semester there and all I did was art. It was lovely of my family to let me live away and study art. It was a kick start for me at the age of 30.”  

This “kick start” coincided with her own socio-political awakening. After her studies she says, “I was being radical.  In my paintings the women were not pretty.  I was turning 31 and I was feeling all the ‘times’ of being a woman.”  

Celebrating openness

Now, Campbell says, some of that inner turmoil has subsided. “I find that I still have my own controversy, but I’m in a very, very graceful place right now. I’m very receptive to what’s going on in the world.  But I’m a little bit more content now. I just love the fact that I get to do what I love.  It’s very rewarding.”  

And she is branching out and embracing other artistic mediums, as well, opening up her fabulous studio to others. “We had the Bare Bones Theater here in June. It’s more of a reading than a play. It’s wonderful. I’m getting to explore by letting people come into this space.  All we have to do is be open to it and it comes.”  

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One of Campbell’s paintings creates a lovely spot in her Laguna Canyon studio

A charmed career

Campbell has won many awards and has achieved great success. By her own admission her career has been “charmed.” 

Believing “Your deepest feeling is your highest truth,” she says she never doubted her career as an artist. Despite her success and longevity, she still continues to push forward and challenge herself.  “Now I’m really comfortable. I’m comfortable with where my art is. But I’m always ready for a change,” she says somewhat mischievously.

 

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