The Cressida Campbell exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia cements under-appreciated Australian artists’ place in the canon

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A mural-like painting of an intricately decorated kitchen shelf frames the entrance to the National Gallery of Australia’s newest exhibition.

It celebrates a series of household objects with singular precision: a leek is propped up against a blue and white ceramic vessel, a pair of black kitchen shears protrudes from a white milk jug, a sprig of lavender rests in peace.

The more you look, the more you see.

The mural is an enlarged version of contemporary Australian artist Cressida Campbell’s 2009 woodblock painting The Kitchen Shelf – here, lovingly recreated by her husband Warren Macris, who is a fine art and photographic printer and took more than 100 photographs of the original to create the mural.

The exhibit opens Saturday and is a major retrospective of Campbell’s work, featuring more than 140 of her woodblock paintings and woodcuts.

At 62, Campbell has been making art for more than 40 years, and in sales alone she is one of Australia’s most successful and sought-after artists (her commercial shows typically sell out, often before opening) – but this is the first time a retrospective of this scale has been mounted by a major Australian gallery.

A 60-year-old woman with brown hair sits on an outdoor step in a garden with her hands folded in her lap
In March and again in August, one of Campbell’s woodblocks sold for $515,455 – the highest price for any work by a living Australian female artist.(Supplied: NGA)

It’s also the first time the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) has programmed a living Australian artist for their summer “blockbuster” exhibition – a spot usually reserved for widely recognizable international artists (think: Picasso).

“[Campbell] is a very well-established artist and we believe she has contributed something very unique to the cultural tapestry of Australian art,” NGA Director Nick Mitzevich told ABC Arts.

“She’s at the peak of her powers and we want to celebrate that.”

Curated thematically across six rooms, the exhibition is autobiographical, featuring intimate domestic scenes, urban and landscape scenes from the places Campbell has lived, and even childhood drawings.

“It’s kind of like a documentary, but in paint,” the artist told ABC News.

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