An Interview with Climber and Artist, Jess Campbell

“Deann Peak”. Watercolor/ink on paper.


“Tufa Garden”. Ink/pen on paper.

I first met Jess last year at the world class crag of Index, Washington, as she was making quick and efficient work of a number of Lower Town Wall testpieces.  As I watched her dance gracefully up 10% Meteorological Vinculation, I could tell that I was bearing witness to a true granite aficionado’s love affair with perfect stone.  Her foot and hand work was precise yet fluid, powerful yet delicate.  It was fun to watch her levitate through sections that I generally attack with whatever brute force my weakliness can muster.

Jess kept making the trip over from Leavenworth with an increasing cadre of talented climbers making the exodus to test themselves on Index’s impeccable stone.  I kept hearing about Blake Herrington, Jens Holsten, and other household names of the alpine world running laps on obscure classics like Black Cat Bone, and Bobcat Cringe.  We started running into one another, but typically our exchanges did not eclipse end of the day high fives and feverish fast as you can before the sun sets laps on Japanese Gardens, Ironhorse, and the like.

It wasn’t until I saw a random post of Jess’s on social media that her incredible talent as an artist came to my attention.  I was captivated by hand-drawn lines that seemed to move as sinuously and fluidly as the artist herself.Having worked long and hard to mix climbing and art through my own writing, I was instantly impressed with Jess’s work.  I finally got a chance to catch up with her for a quick interview for Fringe’s Folly. Without further ado: here is Jess Campbell, commenting on art, climbing, and everything between.


Fringe’s Folly: Are you a true blue Washingtonian, or a migrant like myself?
Jess Campbell: Tried and true Washingtonian. I was born and raised in Kirkland Wa.
FF: How long have you been climbing?
JC: I have been climbing for 15 years.
FF: Drawing and painting?
JC: Since I was a kid.

“From Stuart With Love”. Oil on canvas.

FF: What brought you to Leavenworth in the first place?
JC: I moved to ’11woth’ so I could climb all the time! I was tired of being a weekend warrior and I wanted to stay somewhat close to my family. Leavenworth seemed like a good fit.
FF: What’s your favorite place to climb?  Favorite route?  Favorite type of climbing?
JC: Ewwwwww… This is a hard one.. I guess it just depends what I’m psyched on at any particular time, but free climbing sums it up. Bouldering, trad, sport and alpine all strike my fancy.  Not too much into the cold weather climbing. Haven’t caught the bug for that… Favorite route????? Oh man that is SO hard! There are so many awesome routes!!! But lately I’ve been super psyched on Index. Most of my projects and favorite routes are there. Bobcat Cringe stole my heart for a while.. Such an amazing route!!
FF: What is your preferred medium for making works of art?
JC: I use all different mediums. Oil, acrylic, water color, charcoal, colored pencils, ink you name it! A lot of the time I’ll mix a bunch of mediums together so it can bring more texture and layers to a piece.

“Marilyn’s other Mole”. Watercolor on paper.

FF: Can we find your work on the world wide web?
JC: Currently I do not have a website.. Need to work on that.
<Hint hint, if any-web-wise-one is looking for a badass ropegun, you can prob trade Jess HTML for topropes on your projects…>
FF: Do you draw inspiration for climbing and art from the same source?
JC: I think [they] sometimes come from the same source, or at least overlap.  Art has been in my life longer then climbing so perhaps [that] draws from a deeper well. But I get a lot of inspiration for art from everything that surrounds climbing. Like a certain place I got to visit, who I was with, how it felt to be on a particular climb/ trip, what a particular feature looks like, Etc.  It all seems to capture me. But I wouldn’t say that art inspires climbing for me… Or maybe it does but just more indirectly. It’s a different feeling I get when I want to climb, opposed to when I make a painting.  Climbing takes me out, where art takes me inward.
FF: Then would you say climbing inspires your art directly, while art inspires your climbing indirectly?  I mean, your climbing looks like your drawing, so I feel like it must be inspired by it at least in some way…
JC: Yes! That is a lot easier way to say it. I’m better with pictures then I am words:)!

“Prusik Peak”. Watercolor on paper.

FF: A lot of your work features messages and climbers hidden or obscured within… Do you think art is something hidden within climbing?  Is climbing something that is hidden within art?
JC: Good question! I don’t know?  I guess since I am an artist, I tend to see things through those eyes.  I see artistic nature in climbing and climbing seems to find its way into my art!  I think there are hidden symbols in art just as there are hidden sequences in climbing.  I’m also very detail oriented. I tend to get caught up in the subtleties of climbing. So maybe that’s why I do the same with art?  I also really like the idea that art becomes someone’s own personal experience depending on what they see and get out of it.  It could be the same as what the original artist felt or it could be something totally different.
FF: If you were to make a Venn Diagram, and put climbing in one circle, and art in the other, what goes in the middle?
JC: Creativity and imagination for sure. I think climbing and art are both creative processes, that require an open mind and a little imagination in the mix.
FF: What’s your dream job?
JC: Dream job?, oh man, if I could get paid to climb and make art that would be awesome!
FF: Where’s your dream home?
JC: Well, the place I live in right now is really sweet. I always wanted to live in the Icicle [canyon] by the river and now I am lucky enough to do that.  It’s a dreamy little yurt, bolted into the rocks on a talus field above the river…. It’s kinda awesome.
image (1)

Jess crushing another 5.12 outside of her home in the Icicle. Photo: Shane Wilder.

Thanks so much to Jess for taking the time to share her thoughts with us!  We hope you enjoyed the article.  We’re always looking for more people, stories, art, light, life, love, laughter, and all things climbing to share with the growing Fringe’s Folly community… if you have any of these things to contribute, don’t hesitate to send us an email and get the ball rolling on the next piece!  And as always, if you like what you see here, share Fringe’s Folly with your friends, like us on facebook, tattoo FF on your forehead, etc.  Thanks!

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