Arnold J. Kemp
Thursday, November 3 – Saturday, January 14, 2023
Arnold J. Kemp Levers, 2022 Permanent ink, aluminum foil and etching ink on canvas 69 x 69 in (175.3 x 175.3 cm)
Martos Gallery is pleased to present new works by Arnold J. Kemp in his first solo exhibition with the gallery. Concerned with the textures, textuality and contexts of painting, sculpture, performance, and language, Kemp offers a series of inventive, process-oriented paintings in relation to large-scale wooden letters spelling out the phrase I WOULD SURVIVE. I COULD SURVIVE. I SHOULD SURVIVE. He sets the stage for their interaction, and for that of the viewers/readers. With some of the letters balanced atop themselves in a stack on the floor, Kemp suggests that they can be added or have been removed, that there is always work to do. He understands that speech acts are acts, at times of resolute confidence arising from its opposition.
The presence of the phrase is set against the flirtatious unknowability of paintings inspired by various concerns of the artist, including his awareness of a ghostly presence in life that may be amusing, beautifully haunted and frightening at the same time. Each painting is thus an attempt to render the invisible visible, in a metaphoric and literal sense, painting as a form of inscription. Writing, like painting and life itself, is always subject to revision.
A first generation American of immigrant parents from the Caribbean and Central America, Kemp’s work is often contextualized within the historical and cultural resonances of identity, materiality, and politics relevant to the contemporary moment. In 2021 the Manetti Shrem Museum at the University of California, Davis presented a solo exhibition of Kemp’s titled I would survive. I could survive. I should survive. The phrase, taken from a handwritten note in the artist’s studio, pointed to Kemp’s resolute commitment to the poetic gesture. The exhibition’s curator, Sampada Aranke, wrote: “Kemp’s interdisciplinary works resist essentialism and commodification by prioritizing the poetic, imaginative and playfully combative elements of self-making. These works ask us to consider the sensorial gestures that form the self and a people, the personal and the political, the historical and the present. Kemp stages encounters that invite the viewer into the artist’s own aesthetic considerations of himself and the world that makes him."
At a time when representation, both visually and socially, has been at the forefront of art and everyday life, in its struggle and turbulence, Kemp’s work offers a politics embedded within a language of abstraction, and of its history. It is within this space that we are able to join him in considering how we are made and how we make ourselves. After all, the I in his statement of determination is not only that of the artist speaking to us, but each of us as we read and hear our own voices, any voice that enters onto Kemp’s stage.
Arnold J. Kemp (b. 1968, Boston) lives and works in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include LESS LIKE AN OBJECT, MORE LIKE THE WEATHER, Neubauer Collegium, University of Chicago; TALKING TO THE SUN, M. LeBlanc, Chicago; FALSE HYDRAS, JOAN, Los Angeles; and WHEN THE SICK RULE THE WORLD, Biquini Wax, Mexico City. Over the past decade, Kemp has received awards from the Ellis Beauregard Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Joan Mitchell Foundation, the Pollock- Krasner Foundation, and Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, and an Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant in 2021. Arnold J. Kemp’s works are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, the Portland Art Museum, the Schneider Museum of Art, the Tacoma Art Museum, and the Hammer Museum. Kemp’s writing has appeared in Art Journal, Texte zur Kunst, October Callaloo, Agni Review, MIRAGE #4 Period(ical), River Styx, Nocturnes, Tripwire, Three Rivers Poetry Journal, and in From Our Hearts to Yours: New Narrative as Contemporary Practice.