Magazine article The Spectator

The Sickert De Nos Jours

Magazine article The Spectator

The Sickert De Nos Jours

Article excerpt

Andrew Lambirth talks to the artist, scholar, teacher and writer Jeffery Camp

In this year's Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, Jeffery Camp will show six drawings of lovers. Camp (born Suffolk 1923) has been a Royal Academician since 1974 and has been a stalwart supporter and contributor to the annual show. He has also been influential behind the scenes on the committee of the Chantrey Bequest which every year buys distinguished works of art from the summer show and donates them to the Tate. Camp is a great mover and shaker in a quiet way. Rarely will you attend a significant private view on the capital's art circuit and find him absent unless he has already seen the work. He is tremendously supportive of his contemporaries and of younger artists - visiting studios, posing for portraits, making connections and introductions, He is most often a generous critic, but he has a wicked sense of humour and is sharp in the puncturing of pretension,

Increasingly known as the Sickert de nos jours, Camp turns his hand to a wide range of expression, from the straightforward recording of fact in a descriptive drawing, to the encapsulation of an epiphany in an office block above the Thames or an encounter glimpsed from a Clapham omnibus. These moments of private poetry between two people are rendered with absolute sensitivity, poignant in their observation and yet chastening in their respectfulness. In recent months, Camp has returned to modelling sculpture, making his figures twist and undulate sensuously in Plasticine before they are cast in bronze and then painted. Although he is the master of the single figure, he prefers to paint and draw couples or larger groups. These he represents with a delicacy which can belie the intimacy of the acts in which they are engaged. The half-dozen drawings in the Academy's summer show will depict lovers cuddling only, but, as Camp remarks with a grin, they are nevertheless `very suggestive'.

He draws in a variety of media - pencil, paint of course, charcoal, pen-and-ink, crayon - but the softness of the contours in these life drawings derives from a careful use of charcoal. Camp will tell you that the basis of Degas's great pastel drawings was charcoal, and that you must always sharpen the stick to a point rather than draw with a thick smudge of it. Camp is full of practical advice, and was for many years a revered art-school teacher.

It is, however, the human generosity and warmth of these drawings which strike the viewer. Can this kind of response be taught? Where did Camp himself get it from? After a spell at his local art schools in Lowestoft and Ipswich, Camp migrated to Edinburgh, where he came under the influence of two powerfully francophile teachers. One was John Maxwell, whom Camp describes as `one of those very clever people who could paint watercolours easily and thought Blake was one of the ten great draughtsman of the world'. The other was William Gillies, a superb draughtsman taught by Andre Lhote in Paris (Maxwell was taught by Leger), who became an evocative landscape painter. Camp today owns a couple of drawings and a painting by Gillies, which he looks at constantly and with close attention. As he says, 'I was lucky to be taught by a genius.'

So what precisely did he learn? `Actually he didn't teach me much.' Camp smiles innocently. `It was a great relief when I saw how distressing Coldstream's teaching was.' (The guru of the Euston Road School, Sir William Coldstream purveyed the famous dot-and-carry method of so-called realism. …

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