Southside Gallery showcases Chatham Meade Kemp’s abstract landscapes

Posted on Mar 10 2017 - 8:01am by Jacqueline Knirnschild
Chatham Meade Kemp

Paintings from “Saturation” by Chatham Meade Kemp. (Photo courtesy: Southside Gallery)

This month, the walls of Southside Gallery are invigorated with vibrantly colored abstract landscape paintings.  

“Saturation,” by artist Chatham Meade Kemp, an assistant professor at William Carey University, is on exhibit until April 1. The artist reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, March 18, at Southside.

Kemp’s artwork is inspired by her life in Hattiesburg, where she was born and raised. The pieces in the collection range from large oil on canvas to small oil pastel on paper. 

“Saturation,” an 18-piece collection all created within the past year, embodies Kemp’s ability to evaluate contrasting concepts. She pairs turbulence with stillness, mixes contemporary and traditional and combines rich colors with organic lines.

The title “Saturation” stems from Kemp’s passion for duality, not only in content but also method.

“I felt like saturation can refer to water when it rains, and there’s so much water that the ground is saturated,” Kemp said. “Also, in art terms, saturation means brightness, and a lot of the paintings have intensity of color.”

Kemp thinks her tendency to use strong colors and movement in her art is representative of her energetic personality.

The specific sensations the colors in her paintings evoke are also a contrast. Some pieces contain a lot of yellow, which Kemp said she considers hot and tropical. Others focus more on blue, which provides a quieter, soothing relief to the yellow.

Kemp painted the gray and blue paintings last summer amid tragedy.

“I had a friend who had chemo and also had another friend whose brother died,” Kemp said. “It was like a week without color, and I think that was, in part, response to calming down all the colors but also the sadness of being concerned about these friends.”

Chatham Meade Kemp

Paintings from “Saturation” by Chatham Meade Kemp. (Photo courtesy: Southside Gallery)

The paintings were meditative and stand out from the bright, warm-colored pieces, Kemp said.

“The rest of the show is a lot more about joyfulness and exuberance,” Kemp said.

She found inspiration in French artist Pierre Bernard, who also likes to use a lot of bright color.

While looking at Bernard’s work, Kemp said she thought about her own art and felt like many people see bright paintings and think only of naïve happiness, not a balance that comes with joy.

“In some ways, the paintings are kind of hopeful and about overcoming,” Kemp said. “They come from me trying to manage things that aren’t necessarily pleasant, but that means I have a freedom to sort of let go and make things better.”

She likes to see where her paintings take her, but she also likes to tie in references, such as plants. “Saturation” includes two abstract still-life paintings.

“I used to paint still lifes as an undergrad, but I would paint them very loosely and gesturally,” Kemp said. “I always vacillate back and forth between things that are more abstract and things that have a stronger reference. I think that when it works really well, I get it just right in the middle.”

Specifically, for “Sweetwater Greenhouse” from the “Saturation” collection, Kemp said she used her friend’s pool surrounded by a greenhouse as a reference. Her friend used to sell tropical plants, and she loved going over to look at the flora, Kemp said.

“It doesn’t actually look like her house at all,” Kemp said of the “Sweetwater Greenhouse” painting. “But it feels like her place. It feels hot, the way it does at her house.”

When using a reference, Kemp focuses on how a scene makes her feel, not its physical appearance, she said.

“When I work the other way, it’s like the whole thing shuts down,” Kemp said of trying to capture appearance before emotion. “The poetry of the thing is gone.”

With “Saturation,” Kemp aimed to use contemporary styles to challenge the traditional landscape painting. 

“I think that folks who paint landscapes often do it in a different way,” Kemp said. “I think my paintings are a lot more jumping forward – they confront you. They’re loud. They move. They’re busy.”

Kemp’s mother is a landscape painter and often creates calm pieces that make the viewer look into the distance, Kemp said.

“I never really thought of myself as a landscape artist,” Kemp said. “My definition of landscape was very different growing up.”

The paint technique of “Saturation” differs from Kemp’s previous collections. She was inspired by Henri Matisse and New York City painter Bill Scott to use thinner paints. The color in Matisse’s work is very often thin, and the marks are direct contour marks, Kemp said.

“Rather than painting it and fixing it and then painting it and fixing it, he puts down a mark, and it’s right the first time,” Kemp said. “If he doesn’t nail it, he’ll scrape it off.”

In addition to scraping off imperfect paint marks, “Saturation” is different because Kemp used the iPhone app “Brushes” to sketch and doodle whenever she had spare time. Brushes has many different kinds of brushes and color palettes, Kemp said.

“It’s a really nifty way to draw,” she said.

After her son was born, Kemp said she did not have as much time to go to the studio, so using Brushes was convenient.

“I found that I could take a picture of the painting and then go back in this program Brushes and change and move the color around,” Kemp said. “So when I didn’t have time or was too tired, I could sit there and draw on my phone, and that became a habit for this show especially.”

Kemp said she does not use Brushes to create an actual product but instead to change compositional aspects. At least 10 of the 18 paintings in “Saturation” were formulated using the app. Specifically, Kemp said, she probably created about 40 different digital versions of “Approaching the Storm.”

At 21, Kemp studied calligraphy in Tokyo, which was an experience that still subtly impacts the space of her paintings. A curator recently came to her studio and noticed the Japanese influences in the “Saturation” collection.

“I can see the aerial perspective rather than the moving-back-in-space type perspective,” the curator said to Kemp.

Kemp said her experience in Tokyo was really important to her and “made her think about art differently.”

Despite her international travel, Kemp returned to Hattiesburg in 2007 after finishing graduate school because she found a job at William Carey University. Kemp said that when she was younger, she just wanted to “get out and seize the day” but now, as an adult, she’s able to appreciate the benefits of living in Mississippi.

“Now that I have a child, it’s a pretty laid-back life, and I have a lot of time to paint,” Kemp said.