My Favourite Painting: Edie Campbell

Model Edie Campbell chooses a 'visceral painting, full of feeling', which recalls one of the darkest moments in recent US history.

Edie Campbell on Blessed are those who mourn (Breonna Breonna) by Jennifer Packer

‘This blew my mind, standing in front of it. It is a phenomenally beautiful painting. Have you ever seen a cluster of glasses on a sideboard more perfectly painted? Have you ever felt the cool breeze of a fan so clearly or the plasticky leaf of a house plant more plainly? You know that sofa is sticky and those wall tiles are cool. It’s a visceral painting, a painting full of feeling.

‘When I noticed the title, I felt the feeling. The chanting of Breonna Taylor’s name after she was shot in her own apartment in Kentucky. The line in the Bible is “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”. What comfort, but such beauty.’

Model Edie Campbell was the inaugural winner of the Magnolia Cup charity Flat race at Glorious Goodwood.

John McEwen comments on Blessed are those who mourn

Jennifer Packer was born and raised in Philadelphia in the US. Her artistic epiphany came in Rome in 2006, when she saw Caravaggio’s ‘deeply sad’ ‘Saint Matthew’ series. Her art teacher at Philadelphia’s Tyler School of Art had urged her to go, not least to see how black people were better treated abroad. ‘It was bad, but it’s only bad if you’ve never experienced overt racism… I was surprised, and alienated from my classmates. But Caravaggio was there, and that’s enough.’

She graduated in art from Yale (2012) and has won prestigious prizes. Her Serpentine Gallery show (until August 22) is her first major European exhibition. ‘My inclination to paint, especially from life, is a completely political one. We belong here. We deserve to be seen and acknowledged.’

Miss Packer’s paintings are sometimes specific lamentations for victims of anti-African-American violence. She uses family and friends as sitters and also paints floral memento mori. This painting, her largest to date, was commissioned for the show. Breonna Taylor, 26, a Louisville medical emergency room technician, was shot dead on March 13, 2020, after white plain-clothes narcotics division officers broke into her apartment at night. When a police grand jury did not indict the officers, there were nationwide protests.

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The painting refers to press photographs of the apartment. Miss Packer gives equal importance to ‘the adornment of the environment’ as the prone man; ‘there’s no hierarchy’ in her pictures. This is also imparted by her method, detail co-existing with ‘dissolutions’ of free-running paint. Again, she quotes the Bible, ‘the eye is not satisfied with seeing’ or, as she understands it, ‘there is always something beyond what we perceive’.

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