Rembrandt & Cinema in the Paintings of Vincent Kamp
‘I like telling stories with pictures,’ says Vincent Kamp, whose gritty-noir paintings are imbued with high-stakes drama and tension. Kamp concluded 2017 by winning the TAF’s Talented Artist of the Year Award. He’s since gone from strength-to-strength, and is currently planning a collaboration with none other than Sam Smith.
You’re always caught by the undercurrent of the ‘story’ in these paintings. You’re aware that you’re just the spectator, but one who’s caught the narrative’s protagonists at an important moment. In Next Time, You Pick up a Card (2017) the foreground is dominated by two mysterious men sitting around a pub table. They’re well dressed, but sporting tattoos above their collars and below the hems of their cuffs. Between them, a deck of undealt cards is neatly stacked. We’ve caught them in a dangerous lull between hands. Whisky tumblers—one finished; the other, barely touched—sit expectantly on the table. On the right, the man’s expression is dark, trying to see through and into the man opposite. His index finger gently presses into the deck of cards. On the left, the other man lights a cigar. Nonchalance? Or a ploy to avoid the other man’s severe eyes? What’s going to happen? You get the sense that it’s a gravid moment, one that’s ripe for a fight. You’re caught by the scene and gradually enter into the world of the painting and its story.
Kamp was drawing from the moment he could pick up a pencil. He didn’t, however, go to art school. His parents felt that something like business was a safer bet for the future. ‘I was angry for a while,’ reflects Kamp, ‘but actually I think they were absolutely right because there are so few people who can make money as an artist. And, I’m so lucky that I get to paint for a living.’ He’d previously worked for the family business. ‘Now that I’m full-time painting,’ he says, ‘I can find that rebellious side of me again.’ His choice of subjects—subculturals, gangsters, and barbershop boys—seem to speak to this rebellious side. He didn’t go to art school, but crashed into the art scene as an outsider who’d learnt more from going to the cinema than from any number of classes at Chelsea or the Royal College. He’s got a soft spot, however, for Caravaggio and Rembrandt, whose influence, chiaroscuro, is immediately apparent in works such as Regret (2017) and Settling Old Rivalries (2017) which, strangely, reminds me of Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp (1632) if only, perhaps, because you sense there’s a metaphorical cadaver in the room—something that ought to be dead and buried already.
Kamp touches upon Rembrandt in other ways too. He says that watching films made by cinematographers such as Roger Deakins and Jordan Cronenweth were formative experiences for his style, more so, even, than studying old masters. Interestingly, film school curriculums also feature Rembrandt and Vermeer. Mark de Valk and Sarah Arnold’s The Film Handbook (2013) states that ‘the painterly works of Rembrandt and Vermeer have influenced motion picture cinematographers around the world who emulate and impact this lighting technique to create atmosphere within the frame.’[i] Later, de Valk explains that Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) was also ‘drawn from the roots of Rembrandt and Vermeer’s original use of light and shade source technique as a means to invoke a textured and layered high-contrast mise en scène; this is known as ‘low-key’ lighting.’[ii] You’ll notice the ‘Rembrandt Triangle’ in the scene where Holden administers the ‘Voigt-Kampff’ test to Leon. You’ll also notice that Roger Deakins chooses to light only one side of Parcher’s face in A Beautiful Mind (2001) just as Rembrandt chose in his Self-Portrait (1629).
Kamp’s paintings don’t just rely on cinematography through lighting, they’re also the outcome of a drawn-out cinematographic process. Kamp starts with a story, before writing it down and visualising it in his head. Afterwards, he decides which scene to paint. Recently, he’s started working with casting directors to find actors. Once he’s found a location, he directs a photoshoot: ‘in the last photoshoot I did, I even had a cinematographer who helped me with the lighting. And a professional hair stylist, a makeup artist, a wardrobe stylist, so I create almost like a movie set.’
Kamp recently revealed a series of paintings of the pianist/songwriter Ruben James and his band, who performed at The Clarendon Fine Art Gallery as part of the event. The gallery was converted into a jazz-styled night club and will be turned into a casino for Kamp’s next show, The Long Game, in November 2018. It’ll feature thirty-six paintings that tell the story of a high-stakes poker game that ends badly, and he’ll be joined by the nineteen actors who have modelled for him. ‘It’s a special event because all the actors in the paintings will be there, wearing exactly the same clothes. It’s going to be different from your average show because people can talk, touch, and see the actors around them.’ Let’s just hope the drama stays in the paintings, where Kamp has magnificently, deftly, captured it through light and the dark.
[i] Mark de Valk and Sarah Arnold, The Film Handbook (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), p.29.
[ii] ibid., p.30.