Humans of Clevedon – Jonathan Camp

I’d heard a lot about the art historian Jonathan Camp and ‘Art Unwrapped’ from a friend who goes to his talks, but I didn’t realise I’d actually met him at a social event, until said friend mentioned that he had been there. Until I met him, I didn’t realise he was also the gentleman who I have often seen, come hail, rain or snow, taking an early morning dip in the sea, accompanied by Ernie his lovely Patterdale Terrier. Jonathan loves cold water swimming as much as he does running. He describes the two activities as his  ‘foolish effort to stop the ageing process.’

I was very interested to know a little bit more about his background which I felt sure would be very interesting. Jonathan was born in Bristol and did a degree in Art History and Philosophy at Nottingham University. He worked for a number of years as an art tour leader in Umbria, Tuscany, Rome and Venice which must have been the most wonderful experience. He also taught in schools and colleges for twenty years before leaving to start his own business in 2015. When he’s not talking about art, Jonathan does a lot of writing; he’s currently engaged in writing a bestseller about Art History which I am sure will be very popular especially amongst the hundreds of people that have attended his courses in Clevedon, Portishead and Bristol for the last seven years.

Jonathan’s regular venue in Clevedon for the ‘Art Unwrapped’ talks was always Murrays of Hill Road although he did decamp to the Porthole Room at Clevedon Pier for a short time while Murrays had some building work done.

This autumn his talks resume at Murrays starting on Friday 27th September at 9.30am and at Portishead Youth Centre at 11.30am on Thursday 26th September. Each talk lasts around an hour and a half.

The theme this year is ‘The Art of Nature’ and looks at how artists have represented nature from Gothic to the C20th, including well known artists like Turner and Chagall, as well as lesser known art from Japan, India and America.

The talks are a great opportunity for people to come along and listen to the background behind some of the world’s greatest pieces of art as well as some lesser known.  An added benefit of the talks has been the friendships that have developed among those who attend, to say nothing of the lovely coffee served by Murrays! Although I have never attended one of his talks, this is a situation I intend to rectify this year!

I’m really looking forward to hearing more about David Hockney’s ‘More felled trees at Woldgate’

And because I know so little about Japanese Art – I’m sure Tohaku’s ‘Landscape with Pine Trees’ will be really interesting.

I asked Jonathan to give me a feel for what happened at the talks and he explained that in each session he looks in detail at the ‘Painting of the Week’, giving people the chance to get to know one masterpiece intimately; to understand and ‘feel’ it. Each time he looks in detail at: why and how the painting was done, who it was done for and at what stage of the painter’s career it was created.  He also looks at its ‘formal’ composition and style, qualities such as use of light, colour and perspective. He discusses  potential meanings of the work, by placing it firmly in the context of its time, and looking at how it is relevant today. He explained that naturally there was a lot from him, but he was equally very keen to discuss thoughts, ideas and impressions from people in the group. Jonathan likened it to going to a book club, without having read the book.

I wondered about the benefits of appreciating art as opposed to creating it and he quoted Raphael, who said that appreciation itself is hugely creative; you can learn how people lived and thought in the past; you see how human emotion shares a huge commonality across the centuries, getting deep into human psyche.

I can understand why my friends who attend Jonathan’s talks love them so much and urge me to go along. It’s such a lovely way of capturing so many areas of human knowledge and trying to understand the emotions and inner thoughts of the artist. I know I’ll love it, I  experienced the joy of art history on just one occasion when I went along to one of the Art in Focus talks at the Tate. It was that spine tingling sensation that I got, when I grasped what the artist was attempting to say; followed by a tsunami of  thoughts and feelings about the how and the why! If that’s not creativity………………..

I wondered if Jonathan had a ‘favourite period of art, but he doesn’t. He relishes a panoply of artists from the past; absolute favourites include Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, Poussin, Monet, Cezanne and Pollock.

Jonathan also organises an art tour abroad each year. In 2017 he took a group to Venice and in 2018, they went to Vienna. This March, he went with a group to Madrid. The aim of the tours is to combine looking at art in galleries and churches with tours of the main buildings and monuments. Sounds wonderful.

If you want to get in touch with Jonathan about his talks or the art tours then phone him on 01275 878156 or drop him a line at

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