Obituary: Nigel Cameron 金馬倫 (14 March 1920 - 14 February 2017)
by John BATTEN
at 3:40pm on 22nd February 2017
Nigel Cameron donated his original drafts of all of his South China Morning Post art reviews to the Asia Art Archive. Pictured is Nigel Cameron meeting then Head of Research for the AAA and AICAHK Member, Phoebe Wong. (Photograph courtesy of Asia Art Archive).
(南華早報 (1972年至1994年間) 藝評人金馬倫於2017年2月14日在麥當奴道家中安詳去世，享年96歲。)
Art critic for the South China Morning Post between 1972 to 1994, Nigel Cameron died peacefully at his McDonnell Road home on 14 February, aged 96 years.
Born in Edinburgh, Nigel Cameron first visited Asia with the British Royal Navy and after studies and work as a dentist, he and his then-partner New Zealand photographer Brian Brake decided to leave the United Kingdom in 1956 to travel around the world to collaborate on magazine assignments.
An early adventure was a trip to the mainland in 1957. While in Beijing and having trouble getting permission to visit inland China, Cameron heard that Zhou En-lai was hosting a reception at the Beijing Hotel and decided to ‘gate-crash.’ Striding up the hotel’s grand central staircase to the Banquet Hall, he joined a queue of other guests and on meeting Zhou greeted him in fluent French. Surprised, fellow-French speaker Zhou chatted with Cameron about his travel plans. Zhou wrote down an address for Cameron to collect a personally-signed internal travel pass the following day. This pass allowed Brake and Cameron to travel around China and have unprecedented freedom to meet people and photograph. Their resulting book To the East a Phoenix was published in 1960.
Hong Kong in the 1960s was the main reporting base for China-watchers and a layover spot for Vietnam War correspondents. It was an active military outpost alongside a vibrant, expanding economy and a growing centre for book publishing and printing. Cameron moved permanently to Hong Kong in 1962 and worked as an historian, art critic, curator, sometime art dealer, art exhibition organizer, at a time when Hong Kong’s art and cultural scene was small.
He organized countless exhibitions and as an art critic and writer helped the fledgling careers of Hong Kong’s first modernist artists including Hon Chi-fun, Wucius Wong, Luis Chan, Cheung Yee, Ha Bik-chuen, Douglas Bland, Rosamond Brown, Eddie Lui Fung-ngar, Tong King-sum, Irene Chou Lu-yun and Lui Chun-kwong.
He was a fluid, erudite writer and his many publications included Peking: A Tale of Three Cities, with photographs by Brian Brake (1965); Barbarians and Mandarins – Thirteen Centuries of Western Travelers in China (1970); Hong Kong: The Cultured Pearl (1978) and An Illustrated History of Hong Kong (1991). Cameron was an Honorary Advisor to the Hong Kong Museum of Art since 1965 and worked as an Art Advisor to Hong Kong Land, organizing many exhibitions of artists from around the world at Exchange Square’s Rotunda.
Cameron was an honest and forthright writer. In a 1997 essay about Hong Kong printer Ng Ching-wa, Cameron discussed the dominance of Chinese landscape painting over the portrayal of more personal, interior scenes. Cameron prescient words could be a description of now: “Ng deals in a more intimate and meaningful way with ordinary life than any I can recall seeing in other Hong Kong contemporary artists, and amid the strident offerings of today’s art world, offers a small, precious and truthful insight denied to us by much other work.”
For over four decades, Cameron was one of Hong Kong’s leading art critics and exhibition organisers. His intellectual, energetic, supportive enthusiasm for art and Hong Kong’s then-fledgling artists was an influential precursor to Hong Kong’s current visual arts development. But, Cameron would no doubt agree, some things never change: the art world is still strident and there remains an over-interest in Chinese landscape painting!
A version of this review was published in the South China Morning Post, 16 February 2017.