The Proust Questionnaire: Eric Cameron

Scroll down to view works by Eric Cameron housed in the National Gallery of Canada's permanent collection.

The Proust Questionnaire started as a Late Victorian parlour game, aimed at revealing key aspects of a person’s character. While still in his teens, author Marcel Proust answered a similar series of questions with such enthusiasm that, when the manuscript containing his original answers was discovered in 1924, his name became permanently associated with this type of informal interview.


Photo © University of Calgary

Born in Leicester, England, Eric Cameron is a painter, video artist, academic and teacher. He studied painting at King’s College, University of Durham in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and art history at the Courtauld Institute in London. He began teaching at the University of Leeds in 1959, later moving to Canada where he taught at the University of Guelph, the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, and the University of Calgary Art Department, where he continues to teach today. He has also written extensively for publications such as Artforum, Vie des Arts, and Art Journal, in addition to publishing various books and essays such as Bent Axis Approach (1984) and English Roots (2001).

Cameron began his Thick Paintings in Halifax with Brushstroke (1979). These involve layering thousands of coats of acrylic gesso over everyday objects, until the work is either purchased or Cameron is physically unable to continue with the task. He is also known for his Process Paintings, such as Reds and Yellows on Green in which he lays down grids of Scotch tape, then paints over them.

In 1994, Cameron was awarded the Victor Lynch-Staunton Award and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize. In 2004, he received the Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. He is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.


Your earliest memory of art: 

At home in Leicester, England, my parents had prints on the wall. The one that stands out in my mind was a work by Richard Jack, R.A. entitled The Toast.

When you knew this would become your vocation: 

When I failed Greek in grammar school. This must have been around the age of 15 in 1950.

Your greatest influence:

There were two:

First, my art teacher at Durham Johnston Grammar School, William Lynn Miller. He painter wonderfully fluid watercolour landscapes, that I knew I could never emulate. However, he encouraged my taking an independent direction.

Second, my Department Head at King's College, Newcastle, when I was studying for my B.A. in Art. He painted even more wonderful portraits that I soon discovered I could never emulate. However, he worked in very small patches of colour, which I and other students tended to exaggerate, leading the way to abstraction.

Occupation you would have chosen (other than art):

Until I failed Greek, I wanted to be a Classics teacher.

Favourite pastime (other than art):

Watching television.

Favourite artist:

Maybe Titian; maybe Vermeer (on whom Lawrence Gowing published a superb book the same year I started my studies at King's.)

Favourite writer and musician/composer:

Writer: The authors/translators of the King James Bible. Composer: Schoenberg.

Favourite colour, flower and bird:

Colour, probably red — a bright scarlet. I am not at all sure about birds and flowers.

Favourite food and drink:

My tastes in both are very English: steak and kidney pudding; and English draught bitter beer.

Favourite smell and sound:

Smell: that of steak and kidney pudding. I am not at all sure I have a favourite sound.

Favourite object:

Would Durham Cathedral count as an "object”?

Favourite environment or landscape:

Skipton, North Yorkshire.

Favourite weather or season:

Probably Spring.

Favourite expression, catchphrase, proverb or word:

I recall once telling someone my favourite word was "drizzle," but I am not sure how serious I was.

Pet peeve:

I can't think of one at the moment.

Best quality:

Probably having a short memory; not being able to remember what my pet peeve was yesterday.

Worst flaw: 

Probably a short memory.

Your definition of happiness:

For the most part, I am able to enjoy life well enough without one.

Ideal place to live:

Skipton, North Yorkshire.

A recurring dream:

I have two recurring dreams: being lost; and being late.

One wish:

To get the drawings from my Thursday class graded by next Thursday.

Aspirations before you die:

I don't have any grand aspirations. Perhaps that's the key to my kind of happiness.

To me art is:

The answer that comes immediately to mind is that of Paul Douglas in the title role of the film Joe Macbeth: "To me, Art's just a guy's name."


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