13 Works for Inclusion in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Collection

Barricade 1: Digital print on foam board, 2019, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of the Northern Ireland Arts Council.

Being sitting on a piece of very proud news recently. Following a visit from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in the personages of, Roisin McDonough and Noirin McKinney to my home and studio, thirteen of my artworks (those associated with the Troubles) have been included in the Arts Council’s Collection. This ensures, as Roisin said, that “my legacy as an Northern Irish artist was now assured.”

To have said to you (after close to 40 years of a career that was really just about survival and finding some way to ‘rare wains’ through art which meant working for others during the day and finding time at night and weekends to create something meaningful for myself in a vain attempt to gain some sort of validation,) phew!..(long sentence) was like music, and to have it said to you personally by both, the CEO and the Director of Arts Development, of the Arts Council, was both a proud and humbling moment.

Security Incident: Digital print on foam board, 2019, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.

So , I’ll give a little background to the art. My works relate to my direct experiences during the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’. Although, there are many facets and individual testaments stemming from that period my work reflects my own personal context and experience. I was born in 1958. That meant I was just entering my teens at the outset of the conflict in 1970. So, I experienced a “War in an Irish Town” to quote Eamon McCann for over twenty five years. It is that experience and its memories that now give form to my art.

Fantasy With Saracens: Digital print on foam board, 2019, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.

That’s why my artworks are populated not just, with soldiers, rioters, security alerts, barricades, etc. but also, spacemen, superheroes, robots, movie icons, rock stars, science fiction and fantasy figures that were my means of escape, all juxtaposed side by side to highlight the absurdity of war and the importance of having a peaceful liberated existence and underlining the importance of youth, pop culture and joy.

Pop stars and movie icons represent the wider world culture from which I felt excluded as a young man. These images are re-contextualised when juxtaposed with the security landscape of my formative years. Placing John Wayne beside British tanks hints at a dominant, macho, male culture of force which I witnessed first-hand. Depicting Roman cohorts in the Bogside refers to the genesis of western imperialist and fascist regimes, that of the ancient Roman Republic and Empire. The quelling of barbarians by the sword, with God on your side has been the model for all self-respecting dictatorships since ancient times.


Remember the Alamo: Digital print on foam board, 1999, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.

These works have also featured in two exhibitions. The first in 2016 was at Studio 2 in Derry and the second was at the Nerve Visual in 2018. The Studio 2 exhibition was accompanied by a discussion with other writers, poets and academics on the experience of artists during the Troubles. The second was part of a year-long commemoration of The Civil Rights Movement in Northern Ireland on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of marches in 1968. The Eamon McCann portrait was commissioned by People Before Profit for 2018. I also created a 36ft long mural inside the gallery for that exhibition. Above all, I hope these images generate and awaken that inner voice within the viewer and assist with a process of dialogue and healing to prevent any future waste of life.

The Seventh Legion with Thor Quelling Barbarians

The Art: Social & Political Context

My art reflects my own personal experience. I was born and raised as a Catholic in a Catholic city. My grandfather was a Labour councillor in Liverpool in the 1930s. He bequeathed a socialist conscience to my father, Jackie, who passed that on to me. My mother, Sadie, was part of that remarkable Derry matriarchy that kept Derry alive (during severe male unemployment and discrimination) through her work in the shirt factories. She had a great sense of humour which she employed to survive hard times and which she also bequeathed to me. These influences colour my art.

Imperial Parade: Digital print on foam board, 2019, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.

Derry knew religious discrimination and social injustice long before 1969. Poverty and unemployment were realities. I remember catching baffling echoes of the early civil rights movement at primary school and by the time I went to St. Columb’s College in 1970 the Battle of the Bogside had happened, the IRA had emerged and the British Army had been deployed on the streets. I passed through riots, gun battles, cordons and mayhem’ every day as a schoolboy.

What followed was a daily grind of helicopter surveillance, checkpoints, arrests, security alerts, barbed wire, blocked access, bombings, shootings, murders, atrocities, army and police operations all served up by a frightening number of security forces and paramilitary organisations.

Cultural Event: Digital print on foam board, 2019, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.


What also followed, from us, the young people caught up in the Troubles, were coping mechanisms and escapism. As a young person I had no interest in conflict. What was more important was being young. Never mind ’dying for Ireland’ I couldn’t see any future in that. I wanted no more than to make loud noise with an electric guitar. I considered Rory Gallagher and Phil Lynott vastly more important than any religious or political dogma. Ironically, British Pop culture in the form of comedians or rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, Monty Python, Spike Milligan, The Stones, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Bowie, etc. were far more influential than any politics or religion. If only we could emulate those. We got our wish, for in my teens, almost every male I knew, including myself, was unemployed.

Dream at Bishop’s Gate: Digital print on foam board, 2016, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.


We used the time to form bands. We were experts in Monty Python. I read everything from Tolkien to Joyce. More Tolkien in truth, since his fantastic landscapes, histories and sagas were wonderful escapism. Rory and Phil were successful Irish artists performing on a world stage. The success of these artists disproved the relentless bigoted view imposed on us by some, that, as Roman Catholics, we were somehow ‘inferior’. I often think that kind of ‘old balls’ takes two parties; one to look down and one to look up. You don’t have to look up and respect anyone if you don’t want to.

Marilyn at Free Derry Corner: Digital print on foam board, 2000, 4ft x 3ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.



I loved the notion of a free subconscious spiritual being, free and unbound. When Star Wars came along we witnessed a cultural change that was global. I hated the  inward looking, tribal culture of Northern Ireland. The sense that nowhere mattered more, a suffocating ignorance of the outside world exacerbated by tight security measures, martial law and religious extremism. For us, here in Derry we already had a ‘global’ sense of ourselves. Events such as the civil rights movement and Bloody Sunday had opened our experience to the wider world and that genie could not be bottled again no matter how hard some tried.

Rory’s Strat: Digital print on foam board, 2016, 3ft x 2ft in the collection of the Northern Ireland Arts Council.


Not all that long ago, visitors avoided Northern Ireland at all costs due to the on-going, often violent sectarian conflict known here as the Troubles. But, following the IRA cease-fire in 1994 and the signing of the Good Friday (or Belfast) Agreement in 1998, those times have slowly but steadily been receding.

In conclusion, today, we have tours around the troubles hot spots with tour guides, museums and Trip Advisor reviews. Like Neil and Buzz on the Lunar landscape, tourists now pose for photos. I see them every day around Free Derry Corner and beneath the Bogside Murals attracted to a small public housing estate at the very edge of Europe with a troubled past. Maybe, what they don’t notice, are the still on-going social problems of severe unemployment, cultural identity, flags, bonfires and dissident Republicanism.


Buzz Aldrin at Free Derry Corner: Digital print on foam board, 1999, 2ft x 4ft, in the collection of The Northern Ireland Arts Council.


Portrait of Eamon McCann, 2018, Digital print on foam board, in the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Like Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, perhaps they are immune to these other problems cocooned within the ‘space suits’ of tourist museums, tour guides, private transport and hotels. They pose at Free Derry, then smile and leave with memories of a surreal visit to an alien, barren place.

Portrait of Martin Luther King Junior, 2018, Digital print on foam board, in the collection of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Joe Campbell March 2019

13 Works for Inclusion in the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Collection

Portraits of Guitar Heroes Going live on Etsy soon!



Some Tasters from The Vampires of Lower Bennett Street Issue 3

PAGE 4PAGE 3PAGE 2PAGE 1Just a few glimpses of Bennett Street, Issue 3 including cover and first 4 pages. Enjoy!


Some Tasters from The Vampires of Lower Bennett Street Issue 3

Stendhal Festival Exhibition 2017 Preview and Some Thoughts


Hi folks, welcome to my art and a preview of some of the works to be exhibited at this year’s Stendhal Festival 2017. My name is Joe Campbell. This is just a little insight into the artworks, the thinking behind them and an invite to open up to the surreal and to pose the question: “What is reality?”

For some, that’s a silly question. “Reality? Reality is what I see in front of me. It’s the everyday experience of the world, what I can feel, touch, sense and most of all see”

So, fair enough, but what about, memory? What about imagination, thought, dreams, intuition, nurture, upbringing? All those other “dialogues” that continue even when you talk to someone, some internally spoken, some silent and sensed. For me – it’s much more complicated and my art reflects that.


Dream at Bishop’s Gate, 2017, Digital Print on Foam Board, 8 ft x 4 ft.

This image, for me, represents all of the notions above. It can be seen as painted experience, or as visual poetry. It’s memory fused with a sense of place. It takes the everyday and represents it as somewhere else, in a landscape of the imagination. It re- imagines the past and the present and brings them together in a crafted design that reflects my background as an artist. It’s detailed and realistic in style so as to give as much visual clarity to a dream as to reality.

Let’s start from the background out. The scene is set at Bishop Gate, in Derry, my home town where I have lived and worked my whole life. In the real world the gate is adorned with symbols and decorations from the time when it was erected. This is what Discover Ireland has to say about the gate.

Bishop Gate

“This original gate was replaced in 1789 by the present structure – a triumphal arch. This was to mark the first centenary of the closing of the gates by The Apprentice Boys of Derry. The architect was H.A. Baker, with the sculpted heads representing the River Foyle (external) and the River Boyne (internal) designed by Edward Smyth, who had sculptured the thirteen riverine heads on the Dublin Custom House in c.1784. On either side of the gate are steps giving access to the City Walls.”

And there was me thinking, “This is a typical Enlightenment, neoclassical piece of architecture, of its time and of the past” (as you do!) But yet, it carries another past forward, namely, events from the Siege of Derry in 1689. The closing of the gates against King James II by thirteen apprentice boys. It marks an event that is still held in reverence by contemporary Protestants. It has representations of two rivers, The Foyle and The Boyne. Two sites of significance to the Jacobite wars in Ireland. And you thought it was just a gate. It has carried those events to our own time, our “now” and will continue to carry them to other “nows” when we are all gone.

If you look carefully at the painting I have superimposed some symbols of my own on the gate, not to denigrate or belittle those already there but to demonstrate the power of symbols. I have placed Lammasu at the gates. They are Sumerian. These were sculpted female guardians who protected the entrance to sacred spaces. Other ancient symbols are of Egyptian gods, again, symbols of power and protection. Bishop gate is an entrance to a sacred spot.

In the Mid ground are figures from popular culture, movie stars, musicians, politicians and lurking behind are “river-dancing soldiers” who (as a result of my experience of the Northern Irish Troubles) are always there in the back of my mind, dancing away. They represent lingering trauma from that experience.

These are memories mixed with things I like, actors, like John Wayne and The Beatles, whose music went deep with me when I first discovered it in my teens, Ali, a giant hero who bestrode the landscape of my boyhood and last but not least, Donald Trump, the all pervading figure of our time. To me he is something to be feared. By representing him so I may find a way to laugh at him, to give that fear a release and to provide the same for any similarly-minded viewer. These images represent the “outside” world”, fun, enjoyment, and other experiences of which there were precious little during the Troubles.

Lastly, in the far distance, a starry sky. This takes the scene out of perceived reality and places it “out of time”, or somewhere else. That’s within the nature of dreams. They are somewhere else, generated by the same brain that tells you you are in a definite “here and now” so which is real? Which do you believe?

Thor and the Seventh Imperial Legion copy

The Seventh Imperial Legion With the God of Thunder Quelling Barbarians, 2017, Digital print on Foam Board, 8 ft x 4 ft.

Is the title of that one long enough for you? My art is never meant to be controversial but it does attempt to be truthful, or at least represent my experience of the truth. The Northern Irish Troubles happened. They happened during my life time. They were at their worst during my teens and twenties and they lasted a long, long time. I didn’t ask for them. I wasn’t involved directly as a combatant and hold no deep allegiances to any of the flags, cultures or reasoning behind them. Yet, as a Derry Catholic, one could not escape them.

I was raised in a mixed area, working class Catholics lived side by side with working class Protestants. We shared the same space. I therefore, have no irrational fear of the “other”. Yet, as the Troubles developed, I witnessed a re-branding. “You are Irish. You are not British and therefore your sympathies must lie with Irish Republicans” Oh really! Right, so I’m not a musician? I’m not an artist? I’m not a Monty Python Fan? A Rory Gallagher fan? A science fiction dweeb or a big fan of Tolkien? No! I’m Catholic and an Irish Republican sympathiser and not British (even though I lived in Britain) And because I am “not British” We can do as we like with you. You are other. You are not us.

I often draw a comparison with current events. Imagine, a Muslim man blows himself up in London in the name of Isis. This is not the first such incident. But, in response, the British army is deployed into Leeds, Bradford and parts of Manchester in the belief that large Muslim communities who share the religion of the bombers must, therefore, be sympathetic to the bomber and Isis and are therefore – a threat.

Then you decide that Sunni Muslims alone are to blame and impose marshal law in those areas. You restrict movement, you identify people. You make lists of “suspects”. You arrest Sunni men of a certain age and imprison them without trial. You torture them in gaols, you carry out mass raids of homes seeking arms and bomb making equipment and you give a green light to “special forces” to carry out divisive mayhem, then you get Shi’ite Muslims to police the whole thing. Unlikely in Britain…?

And finally, to be sure to be sure, you show who is really in charge and superior you deploy the 1st Para and allow them to kill as many of these “terrorists” as they please. And all because these people shared the same religion as the bomber.

The following is an excerpt from the writings of the ancient imperial Roman military strategist, Vegetius.

“On a wider front, the Romans used tactics of denying their opponents the means of sustained warfare. For this they employed the tactic of Vastatio. It was in effect the systematic ravaging of an enemy’s territory. Crops were destroyed or carried off for Roman use, animals were taken away or simply slaughtered, people were massacred or enslaved.
The enemy’s lands were decimated, denying his army any form of support. Sometimes these tactics were also used to conduct punitive raids on barbarian tribes which had performed raids across the border.
The reasons for these tactics were simple. In the case of punitive raids they spread terror among the neighbouring tribes and acted as a deterrent to them. In the case of all-out war or the quashing rebels in occupied territories these harsh tactics denied any enemy force the support they needed to sustain a lengthy struggle.”

I wonder, after Bloody Sunday will the British government ever deploy the British Army in a part of the UK ever again?

So, the painting above alludes to Bloody Sunday. It alludes to fading empires and new emerging ones and to imperialism and its brutal methods of conquer and quell. It also alludes to the pervading trends in cinema and television for gods. Thor, the Norse god of War, Odin, Loki and the like. American Gods is a Television series that has every god under the sun. Gods that will kill bad guys, save the world, avenge the enemies of liberal democracies and uphold the American way. Send in Captain America! And if that doesn’t work – send in the Marines!

Marilyn at Free Derry Lighter

Marilyn at Free Derry Corner., 2015, Digital print on Foam Board, 3 ft x 4 ft.

This image was inspired by a poem. I place figures against symbolic structures like Free Derry Corner to create a “double-take” in the mind of the viewer. To provoke questions and encourage looking and a re-thinking of real places and spaces. Marilyn is an icon of popular culture, a high-priestess of glamour and fame, still worshipped. I’ve included the poem below.

I Dreamt I Danced With Marilyn

I dreamt I danced with Marilyn.
We skimmed across the stars
smile bound
spinning, we tumbled,
eyes locked, like Ginger and Fred,
I, alive like never before,
she no longer dead.

We sailed across a chequered floor
and there, before an open door,
that led to somewhere else
we stopped and caught our breath.

And then again we found ourselves
by the shore of an emerald sea
she and I beside its nearness
And she offered me her gratitude
for granting her those moments.

And there, I bowed to her
And she took her leave
to continue with her death.
Whilst I rejoined the living
my head no longer full
of darkness and of dying.

And as we parted
I ripped a dark divide
to return to where I’d started
back to breath and light
and the miracle of existence.

Buzz Aldrin at Free Derry Corner

Buzz Aldrin at Free Derry Corner, 2015, Digital Print on Foam Board, 3ft x 5ft.

Buzz Aldrin at Free Derry Corner

As Armstrong and Aldrin bounced on the moon
we battled in the Bogside, a giant leap backwards
as the gravitational pull of reality
barren as the moon above,
dragged us back to Earth

I sat, a boy, agog at the
black and white flickering miracle on TV
sat open-mouthed, clutching my model of Apollo
watching grown men cry
I bounced round the room with Neil and Buzz
witness to history in the heavens
while all around me, down on the ground
deployments, walls and peace lines rose

And now they come like Aldrin and Armstrong
the ultimate tourists drawn to those walls
posing for photos, smiling at the moon.


The Justice League of North Korea, 2016, Digital Print on Foam Board, 5ft x 3ft

Something really scary about North Korea. How it so wants to be counted among the great nations of the world but not in any cultural or creative way but as a feared nuclear power. The lack of North Korea’s self awareness, the seemingly total indoctrination of its citizens and a megalomaniac leader in Kim Jong-un, who has been raised in an unreal bubble of unreality, adoration and total privilege all contributes to a potential world war waiting to happen. Hence the humour, got to deal with it in some way!

Ironically, the sworn enemy of North Korea, the US is an imperial warmonger par excellence. I always translate “supermen” as “super power” namely America. The proliferation of Superhero movies and TV is unprecedented. They are everywhere. I think American Gods just really says it all. They are after all. Aren’t they?

Just to put this in perspective if Italy or Portugal produced 60 superhero movies each year and every character in them was Italian or Portuguese wouldn’t that seem odd?


And Finally…Pretty self explanatory, a tribute to the best electric guitarist ever, Rory Gallagher (in my humble opinion) or rather to his instantly recognisable beat-up guitar, a Fender Stratocaster that died with him…


Stendhal Festival Exhibition 2017 Preview and Some Thoughts

War of the Worlds Free Comic Download

This is a short 4 page comic I did for Dave West at Accent UK. The story was designed to create a short sharp moral. I really enjoyed this. I love science-fiction and war themed art and this combined both. The alien had to be original as did the spaceships etc, bit of a challenge, (always is!) to get the story down to 4 pages, much more difficult to be succinct than complicated. These are free to download as long as you acknowledge The artist (myself) Joe Campbell and the writer, Dave West. page-1-for-blog



War of the Worlds Free Comic Download



Just a few samples of artwork I’m currently working on for a new graphic series for Accent UK. The story opens in the Victorian era and subsequently moves to other time periods as our hero, Mr. Rook, The Shadowless Man is able to move through portals that take him to different realms and time periods.

Thing I enjoy the most is rising to the challenge of depicting characters in period dress. Below are some examples of individual figures. Real steampunk feel to this story from Dave West. Dave always weaves  intricate patterns into his stories and this is no exception.

2 victorians copy

We are still working on Issue One at the moment, I’m hoping to finish it before the end of August 2016 (just included the year there to reassure Dave!).

carriage copy

panel sample


Portrait of a Champion


Jackie Campbell (1925-2012) Crossing the line for The Oak Leaf Athletic Team at Ballyarnett, Derry circa, 1950.


Jackie Campbell & Oak Leaf Athletic Club

Formed during the dark days of the Second World War, the Oak Leaf Athletic Team dominated Irish running during the late forties and early fifties. This article looks back at a classic team and one distinguished member in particular, the late Jackie Campbell.

Jackie Campbell’s athletic career started during his school days in St. Edward’s College, Liverpool, where he put up the best junior performance by winning four events at the school sports. A few years later, having moved to Derry from Liverpool to avoid the German bombing, he set a record for the 800 meters at the Ulster Junior Track Championships in 1946, winning the 600 meters and the 880 yards senior titles.

The following year he represented Ulster against Connacht at Sligo winning the General O Duffy Cup. Speaking about his running days in 2011 Jackie reminisced,

“We used to play Gaelic games at Celtic Park until one day we decided to form an athletics club. The main founder was Frank Pimley, who was originally from Belfast.


Oak Leaf training at Celtic Park, Derry, 1948.

“When we started out we had no kit. So, Frank’s brother, who used to run the tennis courts near Celtic park, supplied us with black rugby jerseys. When we could finally afford running tops we kept the black colour with white shorts. It was a very recognisable strip.

“We ran under the auspices of the N.A.C.A. The National Athletics and Cycling Association. And, it wasn’t just runs at the racecourse at Ballyarnett. We traveled all over Ireland. We would go down to Dublin to attend inter-provincial meetings. There was the Lisburn Cup at Newry, which was run on Easter Sunday and we had some very unique events like the event run by Cardinal Dalton at Armagh. The medals for that event were unique. They were solid silver with the cardinal’s hat at the top, beautiful objects in their own right.

The distinctive “Cardinal’s Medals”

We would often attend meetings at Ballyarnett Racecourse running against teams like, City of Derry Harriers but unfortunately, facilities back then were nonexistent and it would not have been unusual to change in a field.”


Jackie also recalled the names of some of his former running colleagues, all champions and sadly, many now gone. We had Brendan Duddy and Brendan Dorrian (both run well-known businesses in Derry) Patsy Mc Crystal, brothers, John and Willy Carlin, Ernie Teasie and Billy Bryson, to name but a few. He remembered Brendan Duddy famously tried for both the junior and senior titles in one day! Jackie doesn’t remember if he got one or both but “he nearly died trying.”


When asked what he remembered most about running at the Ballyarnett Racecourse Jackie apparently smiled and reached for an old black and white photo. The striking image showed a young man, in a black top, arms outstretched, winning the 880 yrds. Jackie Campbell – A champion indeed.

Portrait of a Champion