Gareth Kemp is a painter of fictional landscapes, working in acrylics to create striking and deceptively simple compositions where landscape elements are transformed into evocative motif. Gareth’s style is inspired by the nineteenth century painters Caspar David Friedrich and Frederic Edwin Church, as well as Peter Doig and David Hockney among his contemporaries. Each of these artists presents landscape in a new, dynamic way; “they might not even call themselves landscape painters”, Kemp muses.
To study these alternative modes of perception Kemp created a series of imagined views through artists’ windows. Gareth isolated a marginal element of a masterwork that he found inspiring, reduced that element to a stylised motif, and presented it floating in space and out of context; exploring how meaning transforms when an image is rendered locationless. Goya’s Window, depicting mottled foliage on a white canvas, may suggest natural tranquillity, yet its subject is lifted from Francisco Goya’s The Disasters of War series.
To unfix an image from its landscape Kemp will often paint out an initial subject but allow it to show through the succeeding layers of paint. “It’s like being asked to show your working out in a Maths lesson”, the artist remarks. As in Midnight Sun, this technique produces a blurring of foreground and background, allowing the placement of the viewer to remain mobile. Using varnish in between the layers of paint also creates an impression that the surface image floats, detached, on the skin of the painting.
“I don’t want my paintings to feel tied to a specific place and time” Kemp asserts; “I want them to go beyond that.” Through studying the exotic plants housed at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Gareth has populated his artwork with images from nature suggestive of diverse climates. In this way the artist’s portfolio has a global feel and his fictional landscapes seem simultaneously to evoke everywhere and nowhere.
Gareth’s painting has evolved from a largely monochromatic style to incorporate a bright colour palette of pure greens, oranges and pinks. Kemp’s latest series of American Landscapes sees his interest in colour and sound come together in striking works inspired by the music of Nick Cave and The Band. “I have my record player in the studio and a box of records”, Kemp remarks, “it’s a great place to go to”. Gareth’s musical influence is clear in the names of his pieces which are often song titles and lyrics. Listening to the song which has inspired the work creates a rich multi-sensory experience, where landscape is redefined and the power to construct new meaning is given to the experiencer.
Gareth Kemp is currently exhibiting at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool as part of the John Moores Painting Prize and his work also features in this year’s ING Discerning Eye at Mall Galleries, 17-27 November 2016.
By Beatrice Bowles-Bray