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South Downlands © Jeffrey Camp

Jeffrey Camp on the Way to Beachy Head

The Jerwood is not only celebrating an artist in his 90th year with an artistic career spanning seven decades, they are also exhibiting Jeffrey Camp, a local artist who has been inspired by East Sussex’s renowned Beachy Head. HOT reporter, Lauris Morgan-Griffiths, went along to see what Camp’s individual eye and hand had brought to this extraordinary landscape in his exhibition The Way to Beachy Head.

Beachy Head, the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, has its own particular atmosphere: people delight in the grandeur of the cliffs, the wind, the birds, the bleakness in winter, the freedom of it all in summer. Unfortunately, not everyone celebrates that life-affirming space, some are attracted for darker reasons – as evidenced by the sad, tribute crosses and flowers to people who have ended their lives there.

Jeffrey Camp’s paintings celebrate the openness and beauty of the cliffs, land and wildlife – including human-life. The paintings are lyrical but Camp does not deny the darker undertones of the landscape:  the light and dark; the stark, dramatic play of cliffs and sea; the feeling there, but not spelt out, the correlation of life and death on the edge of those majestic cliffs.

Jeffrey Camp was brought up in East Anglia and fell in love with the ups and down of the East Sussex Coast in contrast to the flatness of his native landscape. In 1961 he moved to London and taught at Chelsea School of Art, moving on to the Slade in 1963 where he remained for 25 years. He married Hastings artist Laetitia Yhap in 1963 and for many years the couple divided their time between London and Hastings where he found inspiration in Beachy Head and the East Sussex countryside.

Sunbathers at Beachy Head, 1995 © Jeffery Camp, courtesy Art Space Gallery, London

Sunbathers at Beachy Head, 1995 © Jeffery Camp, courtesy Art Space Gallery, London

I can’t say I know Beachy Head intimately, the times I have been there it has been blowing a gale. However, I have peaked over the edge to see the vertiginous chalk plummeting to the sea – and then retreated fast. So, I have seen and appreciated the drama of it all although I have not witnessed couples frolicking naked in the grass. And I sincerely hope that happens – Beachy Head clearly attracts different passions.

Wondering around the exhibition evoked odd sensations. It is like entering a dream world – thoughts of Marc Chagall with floating figures; the more down to earth black and white photographs of Bill Brandt’s naked figures in beach landscapes. And you cannot miss  his debt to art history.

Jeffrey Camp himself describes it best.

“We depend on all the painters of the past (I looked at Watteau, Poussin, Boudin, Degas, Surat, Piero della Francesca, Corot, Lautrec and Matisse). The concentrated Reubens sketches were done with tiny flowing marks – a living drama moving in a tiny compass. I tried to use those means for a different purpose, watching the passing show – out of doors, wherever people were together; at Beachy Head the gliders soar and float. The angels and cherubs of Reubens mark out the depths and extend of his open spaces, make exact the speed and rhythm of his design.”

The paintings demands that you look closely at them to really see their composition and his painting. The paintings flow, they climb, they plunge with colour, stippled, hatched, dots, overprinted and fine lines give a lyricism to his subject.

And the composition; the vertigo-inducing cliffs, the magnificent hugeness and changing colour of the sea. Look closely or you will miss birds, a hang glider, the moon, a lighthouse far below.

Jeffrey Camp wrote:

“The oceanic feelings inspired by Beachy Head, of flowing water, flowing wind, soaring sails, pulsing hearts, flowing veins, moving gulls, whirring cine films, kicking flints, lurching jackdaws, powdering chalk, gleaming helmets, golden harness, shimmer fabrics of bright colours, the painting and the thrill, are presented to me in an aerial structure without attachment to the closed perspectives of the lowlands of my youth.”

And then there are the figures. People against the elements – the fleeting lives against the age of the landscape. They loom large, in the foreground, lost in their own worlds;  some frolicking, flying, swimming, some lost in quiet contemplation. They bring sensuousness and romance to the area, a sense of freedom, danger and passion.

There is also a new hang of one of the galleries featuring Scottish artist Craigie Aitchison – known for his paintings of the crucifixion as well as portraying his Bedlington dog ( sometimes mistaken for a sheep.) He was a contemporary of Jeffrey Camp and had a mutual admiration of each other’s work.

Jeffrey Camp’s The Way to Beachy Head and Craigie Aitchison can be seen until 2 October, 2013. For more information, visit the Jerwood website.

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Posted 11:55 Tuesday, Aug 6, 2013 In: Visual Arts

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