In the Catalogue introduction AA Gill writes: “Jeffery has spent a life being an artist, not just a man who made pictures, but one who has been immersed in the craft and the spirit and the great ghostly legion of artists. They all lived in the marks they made. They surrounded, cajoled, commended, encouraged, and occasionally jogged your hand. Being an artist was the highest calling and you can see in his work in every tender, thoughtful, heartfelt stroke, in every image the litany of his craft and calling. They are leaves from the Atlas of what makes the most beguiling and assiduous body of an artist.”
This exhibition is not so much a retrospective but more of a spontaneous bringing together of some of Jeffery Camp’s very best paintings, old and new, in a spirit of celebration. Nothing has been borrowed. Everything has been selected from the things he keeps around him in his home and studio; a treasure trove of overlooked and forgotten gems from as far back as the 1950s.
The selection ranges from grand compositions to small informal works. It does not claim to be comprehensive, it is more a call to all those who care about painting to reaffirm Jeffery Camp as an important and continuing inspiration. Each work has been scrutinised and reappraised by Jeffery himself, so that what we see is a flashback of things that remain meaningful to him: a journey that takes in the windswept coastline of Suffolk from the 50s, the exuberant ‘be-bop-a-lula’ dancers of the 60s, the mesmeric and unnerving headland of Beachy Head from the 70s, to the lyricism of the London paintings of the 90s, all the way to the present day.
Stylistic changes have taken their course but throughout there is a consistency of vision that takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. What he gives us is a world that is youthful, joyous, dizzying and dreamlike; a world with a heightened sense of reality that acts as an antidote and an escape from the everyday.
The ingenuity in the work is undeniable. A lifetime’s study of every aspect of painting has given him the liberty to invent at will. He plays with perception and language and when the conventional orthogonal frame is too limiting, the diamond, the triangle, the roundel and in recent years random, multifaceted boards have been added to the repertoire.
Born in Suffolk in 1923, Camp studied first at Lowestoft and Ipswich Schools of Art before moving to Edinburgh College of Art. He is also an author of distinction, whose immensely popular books DRAW (1981) and PAINT (1996), have taken home-based art instruction to new heights and in 2010 he co-published ‘ALMANAC’ with Art Space Gallery and the Royal Academy.