Shirley Aley Campbell has been one of the Midwest’s premier painters and graphic artists for more than half a century. No one has represented the human body with a keener eye for muscular poise and thrust, capturing the poignancy and psychological weight of flesh. Trained at the Art Students League in New York, the Pratt Institute, and the Cleveland School of the Arts, she was celebrated as one of the region’s brightest lights well before her thirtieth birthday. Throughout the 1950s her works were included annually in the Butler Institute of American Art’s Midyear Exhibition, and during the same time period she was awarded First Prize in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s annual May Show three years in a row. She went on to teach at various Cleveland area institutions and is currently Professor Emeritus at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Cuyahoga Community College.
Curator Douglas Max Utter selected works for exhibition and assembled a three-part selection of Campbell’s works from the early 1950s to the present. Campbell’s drawings and more purely aesthetic, process-oriented works make up the bulk of an exhibition at CAF’s own gallery in the Beck Center. A concurrent installation, at Cuyahoga Community College’s Eastern Campus, is a survey of Campbell’s depictions of America’s evolving political and sexual scene. It has been said that Campbell’s interests are primarily aesthetic, but it is equally true that her subjects have been chosen consistently for their relevance to the social perspectives and self-perception of women during her lifetime. As the shows at these first two venues closed, an extraordinary group of thirteen 5’ x 7’ paintings known as the “Motorcycle Series” was unveiled at Convivium 33 Gallery in downtown Cleveland. The series was commissioned by Joe Erdelac in the 1970s and Campbell traveled as far as Finland to make some of these paintings, which have been in storage for thirty years.