An Easter Retrospective

Painting by Wes Campbell
By Christina Rowntree and Wes Campbell

For Rev Dr Wes Campbell painting is an integral part of his identity as a preacher. His self-portrait, The Preacher of the Cross, shows the painter/preacher at work. It has been said that painter Arthur Boyd had a sense of being bound to his art, chained to the easel.

In an analogous sense, Wes is bound to the crucified figure at the heart of the church’s life and worship. The Easter Retrospective presents a significant body of work.  Alongside the more explicit theological themes, Wes has responded to the Australian landscape, especially coastal scenes and studies of the Centre.

With varying degrees of abstraction, he paints floral studies and aerial views of the land.  The beauty of the Australian landscape hints at both the suffering of the land and the promise of new life of resurrection.

From his early years, Wes drew and painted. During theological studies he engaged in looking at art, particularly the work of Australian artists such as Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, and then Fred Williams. He also took note of Orthodox icons as a means of prompting prayer. During the 1980s, when involvement in social justice advocacy and education in Victoria demanded a response other than in talking and printed words, he began to paint in oils more seriously.

The act of painting drew on the same elements as for Sunday worship: an engagement with the set readings, within the church season, with a response to the issues of justice and peace facing us.

The cross of Jesus has been a central feature of his work: the cross of the One Jewish man as God’s participation in suffering – as source of hope and promise of liberation – for many.

During the 1990s, alongside doctoral studies, Wes continued to paint, often drawing on the Scripture and in preparation of weekly worship. Residencies in Manila, Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, DC) and Andover Newton Theological Seminary, Boston, became pivotal experiences, shaping his practice as artist theologian.

The retrospective presents many unflinching images of suffering and evil, which can be confronting and distressing. Just as German Expressionist artists opened our eyes to the ghastly ramifications of war, provoking political responses, so Wes’ painting prompts contemplation and action in the world seeking justice for the poor, maimed, terrorised, and dispossessed.

While many works may leave the viewer pondering how to respond in hope, other works speak of beauty, glory and joy. Sharon Hollis (continuing educator coordinator) observes: “In Wes’ paintings I see an effort to take seriously Jesus’ cry of dereliction from the cross in the same way Jurgen Moltmann places it at the heart of his book, The Crucified God.

“Wes invites us to meditate on the suffering Christ in the world, to contemplate how God is present with the suffering ones and to ponder how the reign of God might be incarnate in the midst of war, violence, and fear. While Wes doesn’t allow us to turn easily from suffering, he continually draws us to the cross as solidarity and hope in the face of suffering.”

Easter Retrospective: Paintings by Wes Campbell is presented at the Centre for Theology and Ministry in Parkville, and at Church of All Nations, Carlton until 5 April. Go to: for associated events and opening hours.

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