Rittenhouse painter: 'Tough skin' needed to paint outside in Philly | We the People

Mark Campana, 62, at Rittenhouse Square with his painting of Rouge.

A weekly series about the ordinary people who make Philadelphia extraordinary.

Nearly every day for 17 years, oil painter Mark Campana has hauled his easel from his home in South Philadelphia to Rittenhouse Square to paint scenes in and around the park.

As a result, he’s faced a bit of typecasting.

“People try to pigeonhole me as the Rittenhouse painter, but I do paint other places,” he said. “I just paint here a lot.”

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Mark Campana’s finished works hang on a fence at Rittenhouse Square while he paints.

Campana, 62, was born and raised in South Philly. He worked various retail and office jobs, but gave that all up 17 years ago to become a full-time artist.

“It was a fun leap, because I hated every job I ever had in the past,” he said. “I’ve never looked back.”

A self-taught painter, Campana said he recalls asking a man he saw painting in the square nearly two decades ago how to get started.

“He got a little tired of me questioning him and he said, ‘Man, just get an easel and come out,'” Campana said. “And that’s what I did.”

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Mark Campana’s painting of Greenstreet Coffee Co.

In the beginning, passersby were not so kind.

“When you first start, the paintings can be a little off, and people would see that and I’d get some weird comments,” he said. “You have to have a tough skin to paint outdoors.”

But as time went on, the criticisms were slowly replaced by compliments.

“I think the paintings reached a certain level now where there aren’t too many mistakes people would spot,” Campana said. “Now people say ‘It’s wonderful,’ or, ‘You’re so talented.’ It’s part of what keeps me going.”

Camera icon Mark Campana
A portrait by Mark Campana, 62, of South Philly.

Aside from landscapes, Campana said, he enjoys painting portraits and figures. His first commission was a pastel drawing a woman wanted of her daughter. The job paid only $50, but the note of gratitude the mother included with her payment was priceless, Campana said.

“I always say the note was better than the check,” he said. “I’ll always treasure it.”

Why Philadelphia?

“I was born and raised here.”

What’s your most Philly moment so far?

“Getting into the Rittenhouse Art Show was a milestone for me. That was something I really looked forward to accomplishing. It was like a big goal.”

If you had a wish for the city, what would it be?

“Just for everybody to get along better.”


Know someone in the Philadelphia area whose story deserves to be told — or someone whose story you’d like to know? Send suggestions for We the People profiles to Stephanie Farr at farrs@phillynews.com or call her at 215-854-4225. Send tips via Twitter to @FarFarrAway.


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