The third Beatle People Interview features Frett Campbell, a Liverpool-based artist, and the only known Beatles Tile and Ceramics Artist in the world. Frett tells AWLT about his love of the Beatles, how they inspired his artwork, and shares memories of growing up in Liverpool at the height of Beatlemania.
AWLT: How and when did you begin creating art?
FC: I’ve always done some sort of visual art since a child, creating and/or altering things out of wood, plaster, and ceramics. During my fist stint at university during the ’70s my art went into performance art—and that’s where it stayed for the next 30 years—but during rest times painting reared its head.
AWLT: How and when did you become a Beatles fan?
FC: You could say I grew up with the Beatles. Being in Liverpool during the ’60s was an exciting time, as we all knew the Fab 4 really put us on the map musically. I lived in the same area as John Lennon—in fact, less than 50 yards from John’s childhood home—and of course, Penny Lane was my playground. I ended up going to the same schools as John and George so the buzz was there Beatles-wise. Being at the same schools was no biggie really as we were forbidden to talk to anyone without permission of the head teachers, and as John was a bit of a ‘Jack the lad,’ the teachers who taught him weren’t over impressed by his fame—sounds bizarre but that’s how it was. I actually remember seeing their first TV performance which was a local broadcast, and when they hit it big over here, my dad took me to see them at the 1963 Liverpool Empire Theatre Christmas gig. I saw them but never heard them for all the screaming girls (ha ha).
As a budding teenager it was an exciting time here in the sixties, as the city went from being just another dull seaport in the UK to the centre of all things colourful and fabulous in the music and fashion world. There was a pride amongst people and it excited everyone, with TV crews everywhere, tourists, and new music and fashion shops. I went from short back and sides to a Beatle haircut, from tuff shoes to Cuban heels, and from dull clothes to colourful ones.
Growing in the same vicinity that John, Paul and George grew up in meant that the ‘Shelter in the Middle of the roundabout’ became the hub of meetings, gatherings, etc. It already was, which is why Paul wrote the song, but was now even more so.
AWLT: Tell me about your art and the media you work in.
FC: I class myself as a mixed media artist, sort of a jack of all and master of none. I find I become bored and lose interest if I stick to one medium. Most of my art you see is actually either sketched, pastels, watercolours, acrylics, and very few oils. Some of my art shown goes back over 20 years, and with the latest technological advances I’m now able to scan or photograph my creations and add digital media to them to create newer, different, and hopefully more interesting pictures. A lot of people think they are pure digital but I can assure you they’re not.
AWLT: Why did you choose the Beatles as a focus? What is it about them that inspires you to create art?
FC: At some point in an art career you have to start making some sort of living from it, I did a mere 5 years back. So I started merchandising and by sheer chance I painted a picture of John Lennon on a ceramic tile. That tile was spotted by a curator of an art exhibition here in Liverpool. I was asked if I had any more and I said YES, I have about 20, but I lied since I didn’t have any, so I had to rush to a tile shop and create what I could in less than a week. Most were accepted before the exhibition and a further 36 were submitted during the month-long event. On the private day before opening I found out I won the best unusual exhibit section and the rest is history. After the exhibition I became known as only Beatles Tile Artist in the world (Bea-Tiles). I intended to do the ceramics for only a year, and three years later I’m still doing them to order, mainly for corporate events and companies. The tiles and ceramics have been sent worldwide and adorn many stadiums and Beatles related venues, as well as private homes and shops.
AWLT: Is there a single Beatle or Beatle period you most like to focus on? If so, who/what is it and why?
FC: Can’t say there is particular Beatles period, as it was all in some way exciting and relevant to my teenage growing years. John is probably my hero, mainly as I have a sort of connection to him during my early childhood (yes, I’ve met him). John is probably the rebel that put the rebel in me. The fact that he was outspoken and tried to use his celeb status to the good fascinates me, and I feel he went off the rails and remained there until the end, albeit a short end. Also, his lyrics and poetic verses are significant to life and the world at the time he wrote and some ring true today. Can’t really say that for the more melodic member of the group (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), but ‘all I can tell you is, it’s all showbiz’!
John is probably my hero, mainly as I have a sort of connection to him during my early childhood… . John is probably the rebel that put the rebel in me. The fact that he was outspoken and tried to use his celeb status to the good fascinates me. —Frett Campbell
AWLT: Do you create art on other subjects?
FC: I do or should I say have done, although I prefer to do what I would call iconic portraits of major film and music people. I have done landscapes and seascapes, wildlife, vases, etc., but don’t feel I’m happy doing that. A lot of people seem to like my Beatle art so will stick with that mainly—for now anyway.
AWLT: Who and what are your artistic influences other than the Beatles?
FC: After the Beatles, The Who, AC/DC, and Led Zeppelin. Classical artists-wise, my favourites are Da Vinci (Mona Lisa), Nicolas Poussin (Les Bergers d’Arcadie) and David Teniers (Archduke Leopold Wilhelm). As I’ve had the good fortune to stand next to these three paintings and actually touch and study them, I’m agog at the detail within them.
AWLT: How do you feel current-day artistic contributions help continue the Beatles’ legacy and inspire new generations to become dedicated fans?
FC: I’ll stick my neck on the line here and say that, comparing the Beatle legacy here in Liverpool to other parts of the world, it is somewhat on the wane. The legacy being handed down I feel is diminishing sadly. I watch the visiting school groups and international tourists who are on a sort of compulsory Beatles tour and mostly they look totally bored and uninterested, don’t take photos, buy souvenirs, etc.
However, I feel today’s Beatles artists are contributing greatly to keeping the dream alive, but mainly for the die-hard Beatles fans. Unfortunately the powers that be here in Liverpool (council I mean) think there is a lot more to Liverpool than the Beatles so won’t promote anything, and leave that to places like the Cavern, Hard Days Hotel, etc., which in turn feel they have a monopoly. It’s a struggle for independent Beatles artists, tour companies, and such as they have to work alone if you’re not in the clique so to speak.
AWLT: Do you exhibit your art? What is the response like from both art critics and Beatle fans?
FC: I exhibit (when they’re accepted) in several London galleries, as well as in art cafes, restaurants, and bistros in the UK and mainland Europe. I’ve only done one Beatles convention here in Liverpool and that was for the tile and ceramic artworks. Anywhere else—worldwide Beatles Fests as the Americans call them—I’ve never been invited or recognised to my knowledge. I also see it as more of a club situation now; wherever the ‘Fest’ or convention is the pictures shown online show the same people, different t-shirt, and I’m afraid that’s not what I’m about.
AWLT: Where can we buy your art?
FC: You can buy my art if you wish directly from myself online or when I’m at an arts fair in the UK or mainland Europe. If you visit Liverpool, my art is on two locations on Penny Lane: The Penny Lane Arts and Framing Gallery and The Penny Lane Development Trust (PLDT). The gallery is visit only but the PLDT accepts online orders. Buying from me direct at my website will get you a signed copy, and you can also view my art on Facebook. Occasionally I put stuff in Fineart America, Etsy, Folksy, and even Ebay.
Are you an artist whose art has been influenced by the Beatles? If so, we want to hear your story!