“And them good ol’ boys were drinking whisky and rye, singin’ ‘This’ll be the day that I die / This’ll be the day that I die’…”
Sitting in a Catholic school Lenten service, the young Chad Campbell found “American Pie” running through his head in an endless loop. Realizing that the sentiments of Don McLean powerfully echo those of Jesus Christ during his Last Supper, Campbell remembers this moment marking, “the first time the story became real, and not movie-form.” This connection now serves as the inspiration for his Speck Foyer show, “The Day the Music Died,” an installation integrating grief, hope, and underlying faith.
The first seven pieces in the show serve as a singular unit depicting the original seven stages of the Catholic Passion of Christ liturgy, based on the Way of the Cross prayer and coupled with Lenten practices preceding Easter. The final piece depicts the crucifixion. Campbell grew up in the Catholic Church, and regularly helped his father, caretaker of the church, decorate the sanctuary for church holidays. Easter was always the highlight, “the spring of life from the death,” providing both a spiritual and artistic revival. Though not an artist by trade, Campbell cites his father as having greatly informed his art, and uses this show to help find closure years after his passing.
The Passion of Christ is a deeply powerful image for love and sacrifice, and demands that one, “puts yourself in that [same] state of horror,” to transform the story into a work of art. In this sense, the process of creation mimicked the atmosphere of the subject matter; Campbell found himself working on these pieces in tandem with working through his own grief and exhaustion.
Rich in conceptual symbolism, the physicality of the pieces is also greatly symbolic and self-referential. The frame of the pieces mimics the gothic revival style of the neighboring Redeemer Presbyterian, as well as Campbell’s childhood Roman Catholic church, and is made with old piano keys and salvaged wood from the Harrison Gallery. The oak background is made of wood from the recently renovated building behind the Harrison Center, and the wires are taken from unused Harrison Center wiring. Use of color in the figures is also symbolic, the copper and white in Christ representing holiness and royalty, intermingled with thin red wires alluding to whip marks. The two women figures are shown in blue, a historically feminine color, and the Roman soldiers are depicted in ominous black.
In this season, what better subject to transform into art than the, “ultimate story of loss and renewal.” Just as in “American Pie”–where the haunting chorus breaks with the clink of a piano key and quickened strum of a guitar, springing into a celebratory anthem of rosy-tinted nostalgia–Chad Campbell’s new work introduces hope and healing into a personally and spiritually mournful season.