"I'm really not known at all in the art tribe," says Keith "Scramble" Campbell. "I'm more known in the music tribe, and I take my art like a musician does: live and on the road." Often referred to as the "guy painting at Red Rocks," Campbell has done more than two hundred performance paintings at the world-famous venue that inspired him to move from Florida to Colorado in 2000. While Red Rocks is Campbell's favorite outdoor studio -- and we can hardly blame him for that! -- during his decades-long career the prolific artist has painted over 2,500 pieces at nearly 1,000 musical events across the country. His portfolio isn't limited to live masterpieces; it also includes commissions, charity fundraiser gigs and corporate events. And while you can find Campbell's work in collections across the nation, he steadfastly (and quite awesomely) prefers displaying his stuff in independent and public settings like local restaurants and coffeehouses.
The nickname Scramble is a nostalgic nod to a childhood fondness for roller-skating. When Campbell began making art in the '80s, he was focused on cartoonism, and the moniker reemerged. "It is like a scramble of all these different styles together, making what I do," says Campbell.
"Through my whole life, I've wanted to do something with visual arts," he continues. After high school, Campbell went to a commercial art school and he started doing design long before the days of computers. At first, he was going to galleries and trying to get into museum group shows with "this strange psychedelic art," he says, but when he couldn't find a place to showcase his work, twentysomething Campbell, who was working in the midst of the rave culture, began asking DJs if he could be part of their groupings. That started Campbell's live painting career -- "action through rejection," he explains -- and he switched over to doing bands in the early '90s.
He's been living off of his art since 1991, and proudly shown in independent spaces since the very beginning. "Especially since I create the art in public," Campbell says, "I'm more about showing it in restaurants, that kind of thing."
Campbell was living in Orlando when he launched his live art career. He started traveling around the U.S., hopping from festival to fair to festival again. "When we came across Red Rocks in 2000, I decided this was where I wanted to be located," Campbell says of the space that still takes his breath away.
He's glad to have a specific venue to focus on, but he occasionally still ventures to other festivals like Telluride Blues & Brew and an upcoming Las Vegas festival featuring BB King, among others. In the winter, you might catch him at other local venues, everything from the Bluebird Theater to Cervantes. Campbell also works with the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, where he even curates. Continue reading for more on Campbell's scrambles.
Most of the art Campbell makes -- his live scrambles, if you will -- is done during the course of a single performance. "You are letting people into the creation of art, it's a beautiful thing," says Campbell. During that creation, you'll see him "dancing around, having a good time with it," the artist adds.
Through light, color, texture, composition and vigorous brushwork, he captures the feeling of the music. More than anything, his work is "a dance on canvas," as he puts it. "I try to play the paintbrush as if it were a musical instrument." Campbell works in acrylics because they dry quickly, and he always prefers outdoor settings because, well, things usually get messy when the paint starts flying.
One of the huge perks of the gigs is all the musicians Campbell meets. He's painted the musically elite along with up-and-comers, and his vast repertoire includes BB King, Fats Domino, Willie Nelson, Widespread Panic and String Cheese Incident. "I'm really into the jam band scenes, too," says Campbell. "String Cheese Incident is the band I've painted most, over 200 times."
Right now, you can see Campbell's work inside the Red Rocks Visitor Center, at the nearby Blue Cow Eatery and at the Cliff House Lodge. In Denver, he's in the process of switching out his stuff at Highland Pacific Restaurant & Oyster Bar, where he'll be adding brand-new 2014 Red Rocks paintings shortly. For more information on Campbell's work, visit his website or find him on Facebook and Twitter.
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