Countenancing Beauty: The paintings of Lynne Cameron

     written by Steve Wright, curator of the exhibition 'The Living Impulse', London, June 2014.

There are two kinds of painter: those who work out a painting in advance; and those who discover what it’s going to be through making it. Lynne Cameron is one of the latter, her approach both purposeful and flexible. There are clear ideas, interests and intentions, informed by Cameron’s academic research into empathy and metaphor; there is also paint. As a painter, I’m most interested in how these works have been made and how we should look at them.

‘The Living Impulse’ brings together different kinds of painting that represent stages in Cameron’s recent development; like all really interesting artists, she doesn’t stand still. Indeed, it’s by changing the nature of our artworks that artists find out what we’re really interested in, because something always stays the same, however divergent the various avenues we explore.

One unifying element is Cameron’s colour. Here is an artist unafraid of colour, though increasingly exploring its subtleties. Her palette derives from the places and people she has encountered and is firmly rooted in the present by her use of fluorescent acrylic paint. She is at her best when her colours have been liberated from their original context and can interact with each other without having to describe a landscape or object. In the series A Wonder World for Enid, the same intense hues of her abstract paintings are contained and controlled by subsequent layers of ethereal greys that soften or conceal the underpainting. To the painter, grey can be the most beautiful of colours.

The enquiring, intelligent nature of these works marks them out as ‘serious’ paintings, although Cameron’s willingness to allow them to be beautiful goes against the grain of contemporary art theory and education, which favour the cerebral over the aesthetic. But, as Cameron says, beauty is anything but easy to achieve. It requires an understanding of the medium; a sensitivity to nuances of colour and surface texture, brushstroke and drip. Moreover, the painter must create something original that won’t immediately strike the well-informed viewer as similar to something already seen. This is where the narratives underlying these paintings are so important: they lead the artist to do specific things with particular colours, in a certain format that become something new. There are influences here, including Emil Nolde and Hans Hofmann – but they inform rather than dictate the work, whose nature remains experimental and personal.

All of these works derive from ideas about communication and situations where it has broken down, whether from inter-tribal conflict in Kenya or the debilitating effects of dementia. Looking at Lynne Cameron’s paintings, it is important to remember that painting, though a means of communication is non-verbal. To appreciate them, look closely at their colours and surfaces, at the spaces in-between forms and flowers, at the glimpses of submerged layers, asking how it was achieved and what it might mean – but don’t look for clear answers. As Edward Hopper observed, “If you could say it in words, there would be no reason to paint.”


Steve Wright