Two-Fisted Artist

She never rushes her creative sparks

By Jessica Laskey
April 2021

Ann Marie Campbell couldn’t get Marilyn Monroe’s mouth right.

It was the early 1990s and Virgin Megastore had come to Sacramento to compete with Tower Records. Already a well-known local muralist, Campbell was commissioned by Richard Branson to paint murals at his Virgin Megastores in 25 cities across the country.

Campbell had been struggling to paint Monroe’s pout for a mural in Florida for more than six hours when she decided to throw in the paintbrush and return to her hotel. That night, Campbell dreamed about Marilyn’s mouth. The next day, she returned to the store and painted it perfectly.

“We all have days like that, but it’s important to give it a shot,” says Campbell, a Los Angeles native who has an atelier at 30th and T streets. “Most days it works out, but you have to fight through it. The art of being creative takes a lot of planning and care—almost like having a baby. Creativity is not for wimps.”

Campbell is stronger than most. After a rough upbringing, she decided to pursue her love of art at UCLA, where she earned a degree in painting, sculpture and graphic arts, plus a teaching credential. A talented artist since childhood—she started art lessons at age 11—Campbell was determined to build a classical foundation.

“You have to start out at the basics, like learning chopsticks on the piano,” Campbell says. “Art is visual music—our eyes are trained to look at the world in ways that make sense to us. Windows are painted as rectangular because it feels good to our eyes. On a picture plane, there are points on a canvas where our eyes want to see activity. It’s really just a mathematical equation.”

Campbell’s mastery of that equation makes her work unusually arresting. So, too, does her subject matter, which ranges from portraiture to still life. Due to her religious upbringing, Campbell learned how to do iconography, which she sees as a way to connect to artists from the past. She’s now an expert in illuminated manuscripts and miniatures, and has taught workshops on the subjects at monasteries around the country.

“These pieces are like a visual prayer,” says Campbell, who also takes inspiration from literature. She’s working on a series based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, “The Masque of the Red Death”—a fitting allegory for the pandemic.

“It’s a communication with the other world, with the subconscious. Art has been important to us for millennia, which is what makes us different than other animal forms: our imagination, our connection to the divine, the idea of making our mark on something to say, ‘I am something, I am here.’ It’s all essentially glorified cave painting.”

Campbell’s “glorified cave paintings” have caught much attention over the years. She spent more than 20 years traveling across the U.S. and Canada creating fine art murals for homes, businesses (such as Virgin Megastore), churches and public spaces. Her award-winning work has been featured in national publications, art competitions and invitational events, including the Crocker Art Museum’s annual Art Auction.

While the pandemic has put exhibitions on hold, Campbell has used her time to great advantage, working on three different series, including paintings based on Poe’s story and large-scale mosaics using the ancient Roman technique of hammering stones and glass imported from Italy into pieces that are formed into images—a process that can take months.
“Art takes time,” Campbell says. “You have to be extremely disciplined. I still set an alarm each morning so I can block out enough hours to get into the zone. By the end of working on a painting for six hours, I feel like I’ve just had a prizefight—I’m wrung out. Art is hard work.”

And definitely not for wimps.

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Jessica Laskey can be reached at Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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