This year's Baltimore Collects exhibition highlights work from the private collection of Marilyn and Reginald Camphor. The Camphor's collection reflects their individual and collective vision: a coming together of forces-mind, emotion and spirit. It is a privilege to see even a small result of their collaboration and our sincere thanks go to Marilyn and Reggie for their time and generosity.
Marilyn and Reginald Camphor share deep appreciation for something Marilyn calls "just that feeling" about art. Fundamentally they care only that the art speaks to them or not. They are less concerned with the intellectual realm of the art world and the commodity known as art although they appreciate the vital role the "collector" plays in the system.
Time and again it is the visceral, aesthetic, emotional response that remain more significant in their experience. The Camphors want work to enjoy, art that engages them. They want art that they want to live with and look at; in reality what the soul of every collector does every day.
Married in 1983 neither Marilyn or Reggie had any artwork to speak of. But with common interest they began to look. And look they did. Reggie always made time to visit museums and galleries. Marilyn is amazed at the out-of-the-way places he finds and when they are asked if they had ever been there invariably his answer is yes and hers is no. He reads everything, finds every publication and has amassed a collection of all types of books.
Reggie is studious, soft spoken and patient; Marilyn is outgoing and prefers immediate gratification. Her decisions are based on study but ultimately her responses are instinctual; together they have assembled emotional, vibrant work that pulls no punches.
Their enthusiasm for what they have is contagious and their home is a perfect example of how good art works together. They have work in all media: paintings, prints, sculpture, folk art and craft. They began to collect seriously about 10 years ago. Originally, their collection developed around works by African-American artists; initially they felt the need for a certain focus but eventually they couldn't resist "art for art's sake" and removed ethnic parameters.
The nineteen works in this exhibition represent a core group of paintings and prints spanning the earliest acquisition, Joseph Holston's Jazz at Takoma Station, to the latest, an untitled painting by Baltimore artist John Blair Mitchell.
The three-etching suite, Jazz at Takoma Station by Joseph Holston, "jump-started their collection;" it was this 1990 series that made them take that leap to original art, and they have never looked back. Within their entire collection, a Holston retrospective can be mounted.
They are tremendous supporters of Holston, and numerous works throughout their collection are representative of the artist's creative evolution from the realist Boy in White Hat (1972), which Marilyn discovered in his studio while picking up some other work, to the collage portrait of Charity to what he calls his cubist abstractionist style in Make Your Move.
The Camphors found painter Anita Philyaw's work compelling and also have numerous pieces. Her images of African-American women have arms and hands like tree roots. Grandma's Wings evoke strength and grace.
The figurative pastel paintings of Philadelphia artist Laurie Cooper represented by Dignity of Man embodies just that.
Desmond McFarlane's collage, Save The Messenger, about the life of Malcom X, is a complex and beautifully layered collage. Complex composition also describes the watercolors of Robert Reid where one finds geometry combined with organic and naturalistic light. Eventually the Camphors added works by many Baltimore artists including Gladys Goldstein and Ruth Pettus.
Elizabeth Catlett is an important artist in the Camphor collection as she is one of the most important figures in African-American history. The 86-year-old artist, a pioneering sculptor and printmaker, has given visual voice and empowerment to African-American women. Two Generations, and Portrait in Black are unusual because they include male images, a rarity for Catlett, but together with Sharecropper embody intellectual, emotional and social issues by celebrating dignity, family and strength.
The Camphors thoroughly enjoy watching artists grow and often develop personal relationships with them, but it is not a requirement. They acquired the beautiful unnamed portrait by Florence M. Johnson because it moved them, and although they don't know much about it, it has meaning and resonance for them. If the piece is well done and it appeals to them, they don't necessarily have to know anything about the artist. They are both very confident about what they like and what is good.
Through the years the Camphors have developed a reputation for sincerity, determination and decisiveness. They are known to preview most shows especially for an artist they follow; they often bypass the social and if it's a big exhibition, they split up. More often than not, they favor the same pieces.
It is this confluence that makes their collection a cohesive if not narrative expression of their mutual evolution. Marilyn and Reggie continue to find solace in the environment they have created for themselves: a sublime combination of color, texture, and emotion and life.