Keith Clements

Artist and biographer of Henry Lamb
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The Independent Online

Keith Clements, artist, teacher and writer: born Brighton, Sussex 9 May 1931; married 1957 Jackie Sinclair (one son, one daughter); died Hove, East Sussex 27 November 2003.

Keith Clements was an artist, teacher and writer for whom the creator and his particular geographical and social environment held an unending fascination. It was encapsulated in his 1992 Bloomsbury Workshop exhibition "Bloomsbury Revisited", subtitled "People and Places".

Many landscape studies in that show were inevitably of Sussex, Clements's home county, the changing face of which he was diligently to capture over the years. Among the portrait studies was one of Lady Pansy Lamb, widow of the painter Henry Lamb, whose enthusiastic support had underpinned the writing of Clements's much-needed 1985 biography Henry Lamb: the artist and his friends, which had illuminated the life of the painter who for most people remained an enigmatic outsider.

Keith Clements was born in Brighton in 1931, the only child of Cecil Clements, a dental mechanic. Keith needed an inner drive to achieve. His wife Jackie, a psychotherapist, recalls that "his father never once praised him, and perhaps was envious of him. Keith was very frightened of success." After attending Brighton College of Art, he did his National Service in the Highland Division, based in Perth, then from 1955 to 1958 taught art in Orkney, seeking to get as far away as possible from his home environment as possible. He peripatetically taught at two local schools, then the grammar school in Kirkwall.

Keith was so outraged when his future wife cycled defiantly through the island's only halt sign that he protested at "the silly bitch" whom he was soon to marry:

Keith said that I had never paid any attention to halt signs since. He should have noticed the process early on!

The Clements moved to Sussex in 1958, Keith becoming assistant teacher of art in Steyning. He was next head of art at Forest School, Horsham, from 1962 to 1964.

From the mid-1960s Clements doggedly climbed the academic ladder. He achieved his Advanced Diploma in Art Education at Birmingham University and College of Art, becoming senior lecturer in art at Eastbourne College of Education, 1965-76, and then principal lecturer in art at East Sussex College of Higher Education, 1976-78.

Whereas some art teachers cease to exhibit, he felt that by practising he nourished his teaching. While in Orkney, he had two solo shows at the County Library; others followed later when he was back in Sussex, including the National Film Theatre, 1972, the Alwin Gallery, London, 1974, and Castle Rushen, Isle of Man, 1978. Clements also showed at the universities of Sussex, London and Southampton, at the Royal Academy, on Arts Council tours and elsewhere.

From 1978, Clements was senior lecturer in art history at Brighton Polytechnic, sharing a show with his colleague David Chapman there in his retirement year, 1988. Clements had conducted some popular courses for the Faculty of Art's foundation studies programme - including Arts and War, British and European Art and Design Between the Wars, and Artists and the Spirit of Place.

Clements had contributed articles to art publications and in the mid-1980s began two series for The Artist magazine: "Artists and Places" and "Artists and Sitters". His biography of Henry Lamb stemmed from his doctoral thesis. Seven years' research went into this, an offshoot being the 1984 Henry Lamb retrospective exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery and national tour.

Lamb had long been known as a fine painter, who had produced the unforgettable 1914 portrait of Lytton Strachey, now in the Tate Gallery. Apart from a scarce 1924 book of reproductions of his work, however, little was known of this very private man. His many connections included the Slade School of Fine Art, New English Art Club, Camden Town Group, Fitzrovia and Bloomsbury, as well as Dora Carrington, Augustus John, Lady Ottoline Morrell and Stanley Spencer.

Clements's book has a huge list of acknowledgements, including his wife who "acted as interpreter for the Breton dialect". Lamb had produced some of his most sensitive and impressive works while staying in 1910-11 with the Favennec family at Doëlan, a tiny port on Britanny's southern coast. Among them was another icon of 20th-century British painting, the Tate Gallery's Death of a Peasant, based on the death of Madame Favennec.

By the time that Keith and Jackie arrived in Britanny the Favennec family was running a small hotel, where they stayed. One of the Favennec daughters who had developed a crush on Lamb, was still alive, now an old woman. At first, remembers Jackie, the family denied all knowledge of Lamb, but a visit by one of the brothers changed that:

Then it emerged that she had known Lamb and he encouraged her to talk, overcoming the family's innate reticence about personal matters. Before Keith and I left, she dressed up in her Breton wedding outfit and became very vocal.

Redcliffe Press published the Lamb book, and Clements further demonstrated his versatility when in 1994 it republished the Labour Member of Parliament Maurice Edelman's The Minister. Clements produced a suitably brooding cover for this devastating novel of political life.

Retired, Keith Clements was able to concentrate on his own artwork. While researching Lamb, he had made pencil and pastel portraits of several of Lamb's sitters, hence the inclusion of, among others, Duncan Grant, Lady Pansy, Diana Mosley, Bryan Guinness (Lord Moyne) and Quentin Bell. In addition, Clements wrote in the catalogue,

being a frequent visitor to Monk's House, Charleston and Berwick inspired

me to look afresh at these much-painted subjects and, with a little impertinent whimsy, hint at the occasional haunting presence of Bloomsbury personages.

From his student years Clements had drawn and painted Sussex, but he began to feel that he had "become increasingly seduced by the notion of Olde Sussex, succumbing, sometimes sentimentally, to childhood memories, caught up in waves of nostalgia". Thus in his show at Pallant House, Chichester, in 1996, entitled "New Vistas: Sussex from the bypass", he sought to

admire, indeed applaud, the bold, imaginative sweep of the new A27 through the lately resolved Southwick tunnel, an instant masterpiece that might well have had an approving nod from Brunel.

Clements's last solo exhibition was at the Thebes Gallery, Lewes, in 2002. Despite a long illness, he contributed six pictures to the just- finished Salon at Sablé-sur-Sarthe, in France, where only one foreigner a year is invited to exhibit.

David Buckman

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