Love, as the late Amy Winehouse sang, is a losing game. This lyric kept playing on repeat in my head for days after seeing an exhibition of work by artist Steven Campbell, the so-called New Glasgow Boy, who died in 2007 at the age of just 54. In his 25 years as a working artist, Campbell’s subject matter was the continual long-running perplexing puzzle that is life, love, death and everything in between.

Love is one of the stand-out works in this exhibition at Glasgow’s Tramway featuring 12 large multi-media collages made by Campbell between 1988 and 1991. It’s a perfect storm of an art work. Simple but complex. There’s a naked woman in the middle, with a pulsing heart between her breasts.

A naked pink cherub holds her hand while ogling a butterfly. The butterfly motif dominates this picture and they flutter all around its four walls. Inside one there is the face of a man whose bloody hand grasps a gun. Man the hunter. Woman the nurturer.

There is a landscape trapped within a large wing-like form behind the figures. It’s a work which pulses with energy and an almost religious fervour.

The title is a simple one and at odds with Campbell’s other titles, which are clever and occasionally exasperatingly tricksy. This exhibition has other works with titles such as Thoughts of a Vegetarian and I Dreamt I Shot Mussolini at Cowes Week. If ever there was a snapshot into the quicksilver talent and intelligence of an artist, it is this exhibition, which also includes works in clay, plaster and papier mache sculpture, drawing, printmaking and textile design.

It’s not a huge show. You’ll find it in the small gallery space at the entrance to Tramway. But it’s all the better for being compact as its size gives the work room to breathe.

After I had been round the exhibition, I lingered long in the foyer watching a filmed lecture which Campbell gave at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art in 2005. It was fascinating to watch him flit around the room placing his works in the spotlight as they beamed onto a screen in front of him.

He looks like one of the figures in his paintings; leonine fair hair brushed back, goatee beard perfectly trimmed and glasses perched on his nose. He is beautifully turned out in a well-cut suit with an eye for the tiny dandy detail of perfectly accented accessories.

He seems uncomfortable at being in the spotlight, humming and ahhing over his work; occasionally muttering under his breath as though he is having an internal debate about whether it works or not.

Campbell first exhibited these large multi-media works 25 years ago, but they have not been in public since that time. Love also includes three which have not been shown before. Campbell began the works on his return to Scotland from New York in 1987 following five years living and working in the US with his wife Carol and growing family.

As has been noted by many,

Campbell – who entered the Glasgow School of Art as a mature student of 25 in 1978 – was a man in a hurry. His paintings were often created at breakneck speed. He used to say that he could finish one of his large canvases in five days. In the film of his lecture, he talks about undertaking these collage-style paintings as an exercise in pushing himself out of his comfort zone because he was so familiar with the business of painting.

In contrast, these collages were each made over a period of weeks, in part because of the laborious way in which he chose to work with material. He hand-painted and

then adhered individual strands

of string rather than painting the

string once it was integrated into the collage.

They zing with colour yet, as his wife, Carol Campbell notes in the hand-out which accompanies the exhibition, he always worked under artificial light, preferring it to natural light.

The artist’s wife attributes this change of pace to a need for an activity to accompany a period of reflection and contemplation, a form of therapy through which Campbell could come to terms with the changes in his life following the family’s return from America to live in an almost bucolic setting to the north of Glasgow.

Completed at the kitchen table, amid the chaotic rhythms of family life, the collages are testament to Campbell’s inventiveness and restless imagination. Performance and sculpture were always part of his sense of himself as an artist. His experimental nature and sensitivity to the world around him saw him spiralling off into all sorts of places.

Looking closely at the collages, you can feel the amount of energy which has been spent on them. There’s a homage to the bed-bound Matisse in the mix, with many of the works, including The Artist’s Chair, featuring Matisse-style foliage. There’s also a wee nod to Van Gogh in this collage.

Other favourite artists – Picasso,

de Chirico, Mondrian, Munch, Braque and Ernst – all figure in some way.

How long is a ball of string? In Campbell’s world, it is limitless. The joy of a Steven Campbell performance picture is to work out what’s going on and piece it together using your own stories. If you don’t have art history facts at your fingertips, it doesn’t matter a jot. Just take the time to stand, stare and admire. It might even make you sing in your head for days to come…

Steven Campbell: Love, Tramway, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow, G41 2PE, 0141 330 3501,

steven-campbell-love. Until March 25,

Tue-Fri, 12am to 5pm, Sat and Sun, 12pm to 6pm, free