click to enlarge Phil Campbell: Your Catfish Friend at iMOCA.

Phil Campbell: Your Catfish Friend at iMOCA.

Review: Philip Campbell at iMOCA 


Through April 18 at iMOCA's Murphy Art Center location. Art is alchemy. It can change your mood from lead to gold. Inspire you. Maybe even change your life. If you don't believe these things, you must see Indy resident Philip Campbell's work at iMOCA.

Start with the enormous catfish, crowned with a gold lotus, circling around a boat. Carved from African mahogany, painted with high flow acrylic, the 26-panel piece fills an entire wall in iMOCA's middle gallery, measuring 22.5 by 11.5 feet. At first, it would seem that "your catfish friend" is lounging in calm waters.

But farther out to sea, as it were, you can see deep blue ripples in the water — an effect achieved by carving a series of long, deep grooves into the mahogany. The symbiosis between wood-carving and painting is seamless. (That is also to say that this seems to be a living, breathing work of art.) And so is the attention to detail, particularly in the catfish's scales. Inspired by a Richard Brautigan poem and Japanese woodblock prints — and motivated by the artist's desire to put a smile on people's faces — it's a piece to spend time with and show your children.

One exhibit in the front gallery is even more child-friendly. It consists of loose blocks of wood, on which Campbell carved into and/or performed color tests to determine the final media for his mural. You are encouraged to touch these pieces. Also on display are freestanding sculptures depicting burning boats. They're meant to evoke the passing of souls, as Campbell explains in a beautifully produced video documenting this history of the sculptures.

This exhibition is a high point for iMOCA. It's arguable that the museum wouldn't even be in Fountain Square if it wasn't for Campbell, who, along with the late Ed Funk, helped to transform the Murphy Building into an arts hub starting in 1999. (If you don't believe that art is alchemy, consider the state of Fountain Square a decade ago.) It's also a high point for Shauta Marsh — and her final show as executive director of iMOCA. She confirmed this week that she has resigned from the organization and will work on a volunteer basis for Big Car Collaborative.

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