‘I draw inspiration from the familiar in nature. My etchings are a close inspection that reveal a whimsical character, and my landscapes portray scenes for which I feel a deep nostalgia.’
— Karen Kemp
By Irene Ruddock
A native of Long Island, artist Karen Kemp recently moved back from Boston, where she maintained a studio for 10 years. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design and at the University of New Hampshire where she earned a degree in art history and has received numerous awards for her work in painting and etching. Her artwork is collected worldwide in private and corporate art collections. I recently had the opportunity to interview Kemp and welcome her back to the Island.
Why did you decide to move back to Long Island from city life in Boston?
There are many reasons for moving back, but one huge reason is that I wanted a home where I could have a larger studio space and a yard for gardening. And being closer to my parents was a big factor too!
What did you miss most about Long Island in the years that you were away?
I missed the open farmlands of the North Fork, the proximity of the shoreline and the marshy inlets of the Long Island. They inspire me to do more plein air painting.
I see that you were trained in Italy. What was that experience like?
It was a living fantasy! Shortly after graduating from college, I saved up enough money to live and study in Italy at a school for fresco painting, a process of painting on a freshly applied, damp surface with water-based pigments. I do few frescoes these days, but the process of layering and building up color all continue to inform my work today.
Did you study art conservation?
Yes, in Italy and also in New York City where I spent time apprenticing at a painting conservation studio from which I developed an appreciation for using archival materials.
Some have said that your landscapes in oil have a peaceful feeling to them. How would you describe them, and how are they different from other oil painters?
I try not to make an exact replication. I say that my paintings are representational, but not realistic. I attempt to evoke a calm mood, a setting or a sort of dreamscape. I am very sentimental about Long Island, and perhaps that comes out in the painting. My oil paintings are different from many painters because I paint on gessoed watercolor paper or matt board, which is easy to prepare and transport.
You also are known for your etchings, which have been described as having a whimsical charm to them. Would you explain what etching is to people who may not be familiar with that art form?
Etching is one of the oldest methods of printmaking dating back to the 15th century. It is a technique involving a metal surface such as zinc or copper, and an acid-biting material that “eats” or “etches” into the surface creating a design or image. To print, ink is rubbed into the etched lines, and, with paper, it is run through a press. The image is then transferred to the paper, but in the reverse form. It is much more involved, but this is a simple version.
The background of your etchings often have what is called Chine-collé? Can you tell us about that technique?
Traditionally Chine-collé was used to create a tonal background for an etching using thin tissue or rice paper. The paper and the printing of the etching are run through the press together to create the finished image. Through experimenting, I have updated the technique using origami and patterned papers to achieve a colorful background for my subjects.
Your mother is the much-admired artist Flo Kemp. How has she influenced you growing up?
My mom, master etcher that she is, taught me quite a bit about etching, and we still spend time in the studio together. I lived and breathed her work for so long, it naturally manifests itself in my work too. Mom has always encouraged and supported me along the way, providing me with etching advice and giving me business advice too.
What are your plans for the future?
I plan to develop my paintings and etchings even further. In responding to your questions, I’ve learned a few things about myself that I hadn’t stepped back to consider. I realize how much I enjoy processes and techniques, and how much they inform the style of my work. These will continue to influence the evolution and progression of my art.
What galleries represent your work?
Danette Koke Fine Art in NYC, who has carried my work for almost 20 years, Radius Gallery in Montana and Ogunquit Museum in Maine. I also show yearly at the Gallery North Outdoor Show and with the Setauket Artists. You may view my work and order etchings or landscapes at www.karenkemp.com.