Visual Arts: A poet of the edges of things

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Indy Lifestyle Online
There's no doubt about it. Jeffery Camp is an artist of the old school. He's even written a couple of `how to do it' guides - unambiguously entitled `Draw' and `Paint'. Andrew Lambirth relishes the solid virtues and idyllic imagery of his art.

There are one or two senior painters around who seem to be almost invisible to the general public. In all the shenanigans over the Young British Artists and the Turner Prize short list, some of the older generation have been unfairly eclipsed. Prunella Clough (born 1919) is one, and Jeffery Camp (born 1923) is another. Both work quietly away, held in high esteem by other artists, but strangers to the glare of fame or notoriety.

Camp taught for many years, working at the Slade School of Art from 1963 to 1988, but rather despaired that the teaching principles of his generation would be lost to future students. In this he was not far wrong. In partial remedy he decided to encode his ideas in book form: in 1981 Draw was published by Dorling Kindersley, and last year its sequel, Paint, appeared. In these two densely illustrated volumes, Camp energetically propounds his beliefs that art comes from detailed observation of the world around us, and from looking intelligently at art of the past. The style of writing is beguiling, idiosyncratic and poetic - all adjectives that could be used with justification to describe his paintings.

An exhibition of his work done over the past 25 years, but consisting mainly of new things, is currently on view at Browse & Darby. In all there are some 45 items on display, a courageous amount for a small gallery, considering that some of the paintings are very big indeed. But because Camp works in so many different sizes and formats, the pictures can be cunningly accommodated and indeed shown to very good advantage.

As you enter the gallery, three large paintings strike the eye with the force of Camp's variety and range. Opposite the door hangs Beachy Head - night from 1973. It is a vertiginous composition in greys and greens, painted on canvas on a dynamic eight-sided board, and some 93 inches high. To the left is a thin diamond shape, standing on its point, again of the drop of air beside the cliffs at Beachy Head. To the right is an even more extraordinary picture, a study in intense blues of a pair of lovers reaching into space after a yellow poppy.

Elsewhere in the gallery a marvellously red-lipped girl contemplates a feather, hang-gliders take off, fishermen beach their boats, or a cat hunts under a Thames bridge. These paintings have the tranquil inspiration of an idyll. Camp's particular dabbing brushstrokes marvel at the mysteries of creation, at the confluence of man and nature, flickering like the upthrust of a flame. As a colourist he has grown ever sweeter, whilst losing none of his compositional inventiveness. Jeffery Camp is a poet of the edges of things, which he encompasses with placid dedication - not only the cliff-edge of Beachy Head, but the frame within a frame he often uses to focus our attention. Here is a master at work.

Jeffery Camp is at Browse & Darby, 19 Cork Street, London W1, until 19 December, and in a mixed print show at Art Space, 84 St Peter's Street, N1 until 15 January

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