For International Artists day I wanted to share my chat with someone I personally think is a super talented artist and cartoonist, and who (I think) will inspire all aspiring arty peeps, and anyone who wants to undertake creative endeavour.
Here, we go then, I give you… Richard Kemp…
“Like all kids I drew, but unlike most kids I didn’t stop! I know that Eden has mentioned the 10,000 hours of work to master a discipline theory before; and I don’t know if this is true, but in my case by the time I got to secondary school I was the bloke who could draw – which was great in retrospect, as even the ‘hard’ boys were impressed and decided not to beat me up – perhaps fearing I’d get revenge through caricatures of them.
But then a strange thing happened when I was sixteen, I was at my older sister’s leafing through a coffee table book of Art masterpieces when I came across one of Monet’s poppy field paintings. I had an epiphany, suddenly it felt like I was actually in the painting. And I suddenly saw that Art could be a whole lot more than making people laugh; that it could transport you into a whole other world, just as music or stories so obviously can.
My Dad wanted me to be a civil servant, he was a civil servant and told me that come sixty I’d be laughing; with a full guaranteed government pension. Now I am sixty I see that he had a point! but a three month stint in the department of Health and Social security filing death grants made me realise my soul was screaming with a resounding No! No! No!
I was able to ignore the pressure from my Dad because of my loving, wise, practical Mum, from when I was sixteen my Mum would bring home Art books from the local library. She would sit and pose for me before work of a morning, so that I could draw her, and although she never pushed me, she certainly nudged me down the slope she saw me teetering on.
At nineteen I was in my first year of a fine art course, and until that time had mostly still been trying to make my mates laugh, but at the same moment I became an artist, rather than simply aspiring to be one, my second sister Sheelagh died very suddenly. She had been such an important part of my life, there were simply no words to describe my loss. And overnight everything changed, painting truly saved my life. Everything got channelled into painting – and I started for the first time making what people call abstract painting – but it wasn’t abstract to me.
All creative practice requires process. When you are in the work one thing leads to another; even whilst working on a piece there is a part of your brain going: What if? Your next work is already underway – there is an easy progression, and hopefully development. But if you’ve stopped! It is like getting a factory up and running again after a close down. It takes a huge effort of will and a leap of faith. It’s not till you’re back into it that you remember what the hell you’re all about. When I’m painting I try to escape from habit – escape my own handwriting – and give CHANCE a shot at determining where things end up. Chance – or luck – are very important to me.
To try and invoke chance I use processes that themselves came about largely by chance. Something unexpected happens during the making of a painting and I think: hold on – that’s got possibilities. Then I try to go with it for a while, develop it and see what’s possible. Like all Romantics what I’m after are miracles, but like all Romantics this requires the sublimation of ego and a commensurate need for external forces to come into play. For Wordsworth this was nature (especially daffodils), for me it’s lady luck, I’d like to say my inspiration was life and nature but in truth it is chiefly other artists. I teeter on the shoulder of giants. And whilst it’s impossible for any artist to sidestep ego (it’s a prerequisite for getting out of bed) It’s fun to try.. It is fun when you indirectly create something beautiful or interesting but no fun at all when the result is ugly and dull, and I throw a lot of work away.
I change my mind regularly about what my paintings are about, but most recently I have decided to describe them as fictions. Painting is a language in just the same way literature or music are. It has its own unique syntax and vernacular. Just as it would be impossible to accurately describe a musical or linguistic concept in paint, it is impossible to accurately describe a visual concept in words. No one would ever have demanded that Charlotte Bronte do a charcoal sketch of what Jane Eyre was all about.
However, given that I have never accepted the term ‘abstract’ I will plump for ‘fiction’ and let people make of that what they will.
As far as titles go, they arise during the process, too. Sometimes they’re important to me, sometimes arbitrary. These 3 are all quite specific. ‘Tell it like it isn’t’ is pretty much a manifesto statement. Whilst painting that one I knew I wanted to base it on a small wood I visit. It’s a fictional version of that wood, yet not that wood. It is my fictional version of it.
‘The Garden Of Earthly Delights’ is called that because – once revealed – I thought Jeez – that looks like the Hironimus Bosch painting of that title.
‘Sebald’ is a tribute to W.G.Sebald who is one of my favourite writers. He writes extraordinary stories that are mainly about walking and what goes on in your head whilst doing so. He spins very slow stories that mix humdrum observation with philosophy. The way this painting both lumbers and fizzes brought him to mind.
‘Tell it Like it Isn’t’ and ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ were made using a technique used by watercolourists. Where masking fluid is used to protect highlights and painted over with latex. which can then be revealed at a later stage by peeling off the thin latex. I’ve put this process on steroids by using industrial latex with oil paint on a canvas.
I paint, then draw with latex, then paint, then draw with latex… and on and on. This builds up a complex relationship between layers. It takes a great deal of time, but I do it because I like not remembering what lies underneath. It’s like painting blind, and although I think I know how the painting might look when I strip off all the layers of latex – I’m always wrong. Always. And I like that.
‘Tell it Like it Isn’t’ and ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’
The other process, as seen in Sebald, is about floating oil-based paint on a lake of wallpaper paste. I lay a canvas flat, flood it with glue then draw with a syringe filled with gloss paint. Agitating the canvas slightly makes everything go skew whiff. Once the gloss paint has dried, I extract the glue with other syringes. It is a laborious process, but again produces unexpected results – results I could never have planned. That what I want. Things I could never have planned.
People always want to know how I know when I am finished! The simple answer is – eventually I decide enough is enough, that this here baby’s cooked. This is a moment of great anticipation, being the culmination of months of work. I call this moment The Great Reveal. It’s exciting and scary. I’m like a kid at Christmas not knowing if that mystery parcel is a new phone or a bundle of school socks. The layers of latex pull away as one amidst a fine cloud of powdered oil paint and I pull it all off before I stand back to see what I’ve got. If it is after all socks….”
See more of Richard’s paintings on his website: Richard Kemp Art
and his cartoons on Instagram: