Interview – Vincent Kamp [Clarenden Fine Art]

Heavily influenced by cinematography and its impact on storytelling, and with a fascination for the gritty and dramatic underground world of urban subculture, Surrey-based artist Vincent Kamp has quickly established himself as one of Britain’s most evocative and exciting new painters, demonstrating an exceptional understanding of light, colour and composition through his intense, cinematic portraits and captivating thematic series works.

Ahead of the unveiling of his six new paintings of acclaimed jazz musician Reuben James and his band, on display at Clarendon Fine Art, Mayfair until Wednesday 18 April, and his anticipated next solo show in November 2018, we caught up with Vincent to discuss his background, his influences and the process behind his amazing work.

Just Business © Vincent Kamp

Vincent Kamp Interview 

Tell us a little about your background? Were you a creative child?

Oh yeah for sure, I was one of those kids who always had a pencil in my hand.  I was also really into building stuff, I built go-karts and outdoor stuff like bird tables and treehouses but also went nuts with lego and mechano.  I remember making this weird motorised lift by my bunk bed. My room was too small for a standard bunk so my dad built one to fit the width of the room but it was really high, like about 50cm from the ceiling. So this lift carried a cup of tea in a little cage that would motor up to the bed so it wouldn’t spill while I was climbing the ladder. Drinking tea in bed was really unhandy so I don’t really know why I did it but it was awesome.

What did you do when you left school?

Well I failed all my A-levels and had to go back to do them again before going to university to study biology.  I was completely unmotivated by science but my folks insisted art was something you do in your spare time. Looking back I sorta agree with them, but that’s a can of worms I’ll spare you. I was a cycle courier in London for a while after uni as I wanted to write a screenplay about the crazy world of dispatch riders, they are such a mad bunch of people. I did some odd jobs for a while, never thinking I could make survival money as an artist.

You didn’t go to art school so how did you make the move into painting?

I’ve always been pretty solid at drawing, I guess i’ve been doing it for so long.  I’ve dabbled a bit with painting over the years, but when I was illustrating my comic book ‘Robotslayer’ I got into digital painting.  I started to study colour theory and I went pretty deep into trying to understand it all. Colour is hard but really if you have decent draughtsmanship and an understanding of value, you can get away with mediocre colour. I’m still trying to really nail it. Very few artists get it right.

When did you realise you had a talent for art?

I kind always knew I was ok at it, but I never imagined I could be good enough to support my family doing it full time.  I think after a while, when you start hearing nice things about your work from people other than friends and family, you start to wonder if maybe you might have something. Like most artists I know, I still look at my work and just see errors and flaws I want to paint over and do again, so it’s really hard to ever think you’re good enough to sell enough to make a living.

Winner Takes All © Vincent Kamp

Who/what are your primary influences and how do you incorporate them into your work?

Of course I’ve gotta say the old masters, like Rembrandt, Van Dyck and particularly Sargent and Zorn, but actually I’m hugely influenced by film and TV, mostly the cinematography of geniuses like Roger Deakins and Jeff Cronenweth. I go to the cinema every week and then make notes about what I liked in terms of lighting, colour but also characters, and scenes which moments created great tension and drama without the need for dialogue.

What materials do you work with primarily? Talk us through your set up.

I paint on dibond aluminium. I like the hard surface, that it doesn’t suck up the paint and you can control the texture.  I also like that I can easily cut it to size and don’t have to worry about stretching it. I paint mostly with Winsor and Newton paint, it’s easy to get hold of, good value and great quality. I use refined linseed oil with a tiny amount of zest it citrus solvent. I have a homemade glass vertical palette on a camera tripod and paint under 4000k LED light panels. I prefer slightly warmer light rather than the much evangelised north light as the light in people’s homes is rarely such a cold temperature, so I feel I get a better idea of what the painting will look like in its final destination.

Many people want to paint, or paint more, but are quite apprehensive about failing, being judged, etc. Where do you start and how do you overcome those obstacles?

Well, yes that’s really something you need to just get over. Instagram is one way to get very quick feedback but looking at a painting on a tiny screen is really selling yourself short and you can get disillusioned with the responses people have toward your work; they scroll through a feed making a split second decision whether they like your work … ouch. I try not to take it too seriously these days. I highly recommend showing at small art fairs. Don’t worry about selling, just get used to talking about your art and seeing what people like. Talk to other artists and you’ll soon see that no matter how successful you are you’ll always be tortured with insecurity about your work, never think the painting is your best work, and struggle to take a compliment or criticism in equal measure. The more you’re exposed the easier it is. But know this, showing your work and being judged will probably never be easy.

What is the hardest part of the painting process?

Constantly coming up with good ideas for paintings. After a while you kinda know what it will look like done, you’ll have a technical skill set that will enable you to paint what you have in your mind but knowing if what you have in your head is necessarily a good idea or whether people will like it enough to buy it, that’s hard.

Talk us through the process of an individual painting. How do you begin?

It usually starts with a story. I like to tell stories with my paintings so most of the time something will trigger a story, whether that’s a couple of guys arguing at bar, a scene in a film that I may want to take in a different direction, or just the way someone is dressed and walking down the street. A narrative will just start spilling through my mind. I then start fleshing it out and writing the story. I’ll let it sit for a few weeks, just see if it keeps coming back, if I still like it. I then start thinking of the characters, what sort of people do I want for the shoot. I’ve been working with a casting director to help me with this recently and that’s been amazing. I then start thinking of the location and what I’ll need in terms of props for the shoot. Then I build a kind of storyboard, what will be the key moments, the painting has to be able to tell the story by itself or at least prompt the viewer to build their own narrative around it. Then it’s time to start shooting, both stills and a video, which is always pretty stressful, you just never know what you’ll get. Using actors has been great as they bring a lot more to the table. I worked with a stylist on the last shoot who also really helped me dress the characters.

Then it’s a couple of weeks editing in photoshop, moving stuff around, redrawing poses, moving arms and so on.  Playing with lighting and getting closer to what I have in my head. Finally it’s time to paint. It’s nerve wracking as hell, extremely exciting; in fact I’m kinda feeling pumped as I write this. If I’ve done all my prep work, the painting can sometimes even be relatively easy … relatively. And sometimes not. I still wipe down a week’s worth of painting that just isn’t right. It’s such a rush, that process of watching it develop in front of you.

How does that process differ from that of a series of paintings?

It doesn’t really differ that much, there are just more paintings in a series. I hope that a single painting will be able to tell a story in much the same way as an entire series. Of course sometimes I just paint people that are fascinating and leave the bulk of the story telling to the viewers as I did with the ‘inspired lives’ series I just did with the musician Reuben James.

Sam Smith © Vincent Kamp

How did the Sam Smith portrait come about?

I painted Reuben James, his pianist, who I met at a wrap party for Thomas Farthing (tailors of kickass men’s suits) at Kansas Smitty’s in Hackney. Reuben showed Sam my work and Sam contacted me wanting to do something with me….we are still talking about what that would involve….watch this space I guess…

Which current artists have impressed you the most?

Sean Cheetham is the guy who I studied under in Rome a couple of years ago. He is a modern day John Singer Sargent in my opinion. His work is amazing. I really like Jeremy Mann, he has been exploring photography with his own homemade cameras and just recently made his own film, The Conductor. The guy is amazing.

You wrote and illustrated a children’s novel, ROBOTSLAYER, back in 2013. Is writing an area you’d like to explore further? If so, would it be an illustrated work?

I love writing, I have always been telling stories in words and pictures. I’m just not that good at writing. I always write stories and short narratives for my paintings. I’ve written plays, screenplays and short stories for as long as I can remember. I never really did anything with them, I just enjoyed doing it. I’m better creating visually but I use writing to organize my thoughts.

Your ‘Fear and Loathing in East London’ and ‘The Long Game’ series both have a very cinematic feel to them. Could you see them being adapted for the screen at some point? Or perhaps in graphic novel format?

Yes I would love that. I’d love to collaborate with more people, especially from different artistic mediums such as film and music.  I see my paintings as collaborations at the moment, the characters, the casting director, and the stylists bring so much to the table, I love it.  Adapting my work into film would be a great adventure and would compliment what I’m doing with paint. Don’t get me wrong I love painting, I will never stop but I’m always fascinated by different mediums of storytelling.

You signed with Clarenden Fine Art in 2017. How important has that partnership been? Does it still give you as much freedom to paint what you want?

It’s great, the people at Clarendon are awesome. They let me get on with what I’m doing and make life very easy for me in terms of getting my work in front of people.

Emmerald Study © Vincent Kamp

How do you unwind when you’re not painting?

Unwind? I need to unwind more. I love hanging out with my two boys, they are so funny and we have such a laugh together. I like to get out of the studio and meet up with pals in town, see some live music, ride my motorbike, run in the hills behind my home, you know normal stuff that people like to do.

What was the last film you saw?

The Shape of Water……..amazing colour, every frame loaded with chiaroscuro.

What was the last album you bought?

Er … do people still buy albums? I’m listening to Michael Kiwanuka at the moment on Spotify.

Five desert island books?

The Stand – Stephen King

It was the first really epic book I read as a teenager and I think was key in inspiring me to try and tell stories

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Reminds me of the struggle in creation and just keep going, it’s hard for everyone.

Neil Gaiman – Neverwhere

It’s just a wicked ride into a crazy world.

Ready Player One – Ernest Kline

This is such a brilliant nostalgia ride into the 80s movies I enjoyed when I was younger. My son and I have really connected over this book.

The Tao of Seneca – practical lessons form stoic master-Tim Ferriss

Helps me keep it real. Damn those stoics really had it so sorted.

What is next for Vincent Kamp?

I’m working pretty hard on getting my paintings ready for my solo show in November but I’m putting together more stories for a new series.  I’d like to create shows of my work in more immersive environments. I really want to take people on an adventure and give them a piece of that adventure to take home and dive into whenever they want.

For more information on Vincent Kamp, and to keep up to date with his work, please Click Here.

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