Spanish honour for George Campbell

George Campbell with his guitar (1970s). Photo Courtesy Karen Reihill

The University of Malaga has announced a research award in memory of the Irish artist George Campbell who lived for many years in the south of Spain. The inaugural award is worth €1,200 and will be awarded for original research in any field that promotes bilateral cultural relations between Spain and Ireland. The deadline for submissions is 24 May – details at www.uma.es/amzet/info/105267/premio-george-campbell.

George Campbell became infatuated with Spain in the early 1950s, long before the days of mass tourism. He, his wife Madge and fellow Belfast artist, Gerard Dillon, travelled down through the Continent in the spartan conditions of post-war third-class rail and found a haven in the fishing village of Petregalejo, just east of Malaga. Campbell’s talent as a painter, first displayed in a largely indifferent and impoverished wartime Belfast, flowered brilliantly among the Flamenco dancers and musicians, fishermen and matadors of Andalucia. Life was not easy. Sardines, bought for a few coins from the local boats, were not infrequent visitors to the dinner table. But Spain ignited his energy and imagination. His paintings encompassed the exuberant life around him – bullfights, religious processions, gypsies, market women and, time after time, the Flamenco dancers and guitarists. Campbell learned the language and became an accomplished guitar player.

In 1978 his long attachment to Spain was formally acknowledged by the Spanish Government with the award of Commander  with the Insignia and Privileges of the Order of the Merito Civile

Few people in the region had money to buy paintings so Campbell decided to  pursue his art in London. Five or six lean years were spent in London with annual pilgrimages to Spain. As his reputation grew sales increased mainly in galleries in Dublin, Belfast and Malaga. Most of the work displayed in a retrospective exhibition in Malaga in 2002 came from Spanish collectors. George Campbell finally settled in Dublin but continued to make frequent visits to Andalucia, to paint and rendezvous with old friends, most of them veterans of the struggle against Franco. His guitar accompanied him on every visit. In 1978 his long attachment to Spain was formally acknowledged by the Spanish Government with the award of Commander  with the Insignia and Privileges of the Order of the Merito Civile. This was a high honour but a quarter of a century after his sudden death in Dublin at the age of 62 he received another one of which, I believe, he would have been just as proud. The city council of Malaga ceremoniously marked his life and work in the region by naming a new roundabout on the road to Petregalejo ‘Glorieta Jorge Campbell’.

Wesley Boyd