Zane Campbell, Untitled (from the Alcoholic Janitor), ca. 1980s, pen on paper, 12 x 18 inches
January 9 - February 12
Institute 193, Lexington
Institute 193 is happy to present the first solo exhibition of work by artist and musician Zane Campbell. Although born and raised in Maryland, Campbell comes from a well-known North Carolina family synonymous with Appalachia and mountain music. His relatives include an aunt, Ola Belle Reed, a legendary banjo player, and a great uncle, Guy Brooks, who was a fiddle player in the Red Fox Chasers. The family is credited with bringing country music to northeast Maryland where they operated general stores, a country music radio station, and New River Ranch, a country music park venue that played host to legends of the genre like the Louvin Brothers and Hank Williams.
In the late 70s, Campbell dropped out of college and moved to New York City with aspirations to make it in the punk scene. A series of events led him to the Kolping House, a boarding house run by the Catholic church, where he rented a room and eventually was hired as a janitor. His time there prompted him to write a largely autobiographical account of some of the outrageous happenings that occurred during his tenure there. The story is centered on Worth MacDonald, a character meant as a stand-in for Campbell. It tracks his progressively erratic and self-destructive behavior resulting from alcoholism and his struggles to get sober. Throughout, we’re introduced to a host of misfits emblematic of a version of New York that predates the sanitation and gentrification of Manhattan that would go on to occur in the mid and late 1990s after the mayorships of Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani. The stories and character profiles are frequently exaggerated and told in the style of a Southern Gothic, complete with an angst-ridden and frequently amoral protagonist and a cast of bizarre characters that includes a pigeon man, a coprophile, and a dangerously ascetic religious fanatic.
Campbell initially set out to tell the story of the Alcoholic Janitor as an illuminated manuscript. As such, nearly 80 drawings accompany the text, many sections of which have been painstakingly copied by hand and set against highly decorated backgrounds. The drawings Campbell made to accompany the roughly 100-page text are remarkable in their own right. They are intricate and painstakingly worked, with a comic-like focus on narrative and structure. They’re frequently funny and unsparing in their portrayal of the dark, complicated world Campbell writes about in the manuscript. In addition to drawings and pages of calligraphic text from the Alcoholic Janitor, Campbell’s travel notebooks, which blend his handwritten song lyrics, diary entries, and drawings, will be on display.
Special thanks to Travis Kitchens for making this exhibition possible.