Artist James Kemp with one of his Morphology ceramic sculptures.

White Rock-raised artist pushes the boundaries with ceramic sculpture

James Kemp featured as part of Vancouver's Eastside Cultural Crawl Nov. 19-22

A White Rock ceramic artist is one of those highlighted in this year’s 19th annual Eastside Culture Crawl, which will open a door to studios, homes and garages – wherever art is made – from Nov. 19 to 22.

James Kemp, an Elgin Park Secondary grad (class of 2000) will be opening his space at the Acme Studio at Hastings and Columbia to public scrutiny, showing not only his conceptual sculptural pieces (as highlighted by his Morphology series) but also a range of functional – and more affordable – ceramic ware.

Known for using odd and unexpected materials in his work, Kemp – currently represented by Vancouver’s Robert Lynds Gallery in False Creek – is making an international name for himself as an experimentalist artist pushing the limits of conventional ceramics work.

That’s especially true with his larger, unusually-textured and thought-provoking pieces such as the Morphology series – showcased at the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art at Gifu, Japan in which rounded organic-seeming forms are contrasted with more geometric shapes redolent of twisting staircases.

“They definitely ‘get’ this kind of work in Japan – they’re more open to mixed media in ceramics than here and also in the States,” said Kemp who also recently had a year-long stint as an artist-in-residence at Port Moody Arts Centre.

“Depending on what people are more accepting of, predetermines where I can send my work. I’m still working around restrictions.”

Driftwood, styrofoam, nylon, Plexiglas, steel and concrete have all played a part in his works, he acknowledges, challenging conventional definitions of ceramic practice.

Born in Etobicoke, Ont., he came to White Rock as a toddler of three-and-a-half. With parents both in the teaching profession, Kemp, who attended Crescent Park, Sunnyside and Chantrell Creek elementaries, was a surprisingly late arrival to the ranks of career artists.

“When I was in high school at Elgin I spent most of my time at home either drawing or playing basketball,” he admitted. “I really didn’t want to take art at school, but I took drama instead with Stan Engstrom.”

It was good for his social life, he added.

“Drama was nice because it was where kids of all grades would end up – it gave you the freedom to develop as a person.”

But it wasn’t until he was a psychology undergrad at Kwantlen Polytechnic University that he discovered his love for ceramics, he said.

“I was trying to get into sculpture, but I was only able to get into ceramics – so I started making sculptures in ceramics,” he said.

There was an ‘aha’ moment for him in the course, he recalled.

“I was working on this piece at home –  a self-portrait with a bird flying out of me – and when I brought it to school the teacher thought I’d cast my face.

“It was kind of a compliment, really that he thought I’d cast my face instead of sculpting it. I knew right then that I loved doing the work, and that I definitely had some kind of natural ability at it.”

Kemp did finish his bachelors psychology degree, but moved on to take a BFA at Emily Carr with the urging of his Kwantlen professor, Kent Anderson.

He acknowledges he chafed a little at the strictures of the curriculum while finding his own individual mode of expression.

“It was in my last year at Emily Carr that I hit the nail on the head,” he said.

“I got tired of the constraints and did what I wanted to do – exhaustion gave me the courage.”

Six years ago he joined the Fraser Valley Potters Guild, winning People’s Choice and Best Amateur Ceramic Artist honours in group shows. Subsequently he continued his training at community centres, and working as an apprentice with artists David Robinson and Liz Magor.

Kemp said that he likes working with pieces – as in the Morphology series – that may use unnatural, man-made elements such as styrofoam and steel and yet create from them natural-seeming shapes and textures.

For him, he said, it’s part of a fascination with a “false dichotomy in which the human seems separate from nature.”

“And yet we are nature,” he said, adding that pervasive conditioning to desire manufactured goods is “a major culprit in the destruction of our ecosystem.”

The aesthetic seeds of such work, however, he traces to discovering a piece of metal as a boy, while walking on the beach from White Rock to Crescent Beach.

“Somebody must have been pouring metal on the beach and it had taken on the undulating, pitted, natural texture of the sand. Half-an-hour’s walk away I found another similar piece and it was only much later that I found out that both pieces fitted together.

“For me, it was ‘how can I create this texture?’,” he said.

For more information on Kemp’s work, visit sculpturejameskemp.weebly.com

For information on all the artists and location of studios participating in the current cultural crawl, visit culturecrawl.ca

 

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