Interview with British artist Mat Kemp

Mat Kemp is a Yorkshire-born artist currently living, working and exhibiting in London and New York. His sculptures and reliefs combine found and rejected objects with traditional and non-traditional materials. His pieces demonstrate a sense of humour and charm that he considers to be an essential ingredient of life and work. Kemp makes sculptural pieces that reinterpret familiar subjects and materials. He challenges us to examine the visual symbols and incidental forms that we take for granted as we move through our everyday lives, jolting us out of the world we know to somewhere slightly removed from reality. Aesthetica caught up with Mat to learn more about his works ,and what we can expect to see from him in the future.

A: Firstly, what is Art to you?

MK: Art is a treasure, as artists we are blessed with the key to the chest. We can open it so people can look inside, it’s up to them what they take out of it.

When I’m making a piece I hope that at some point in its conception I will reach the state of “I have no idea what I’m doing”. Instinct takes over, it is a magical feeling that I know I can’t find in any other place.

A: Where do you draw your inspiration from in your artwork?

MK: I am hugely influenced and inspired by my surroundings. I currently live in central London near the river, a force of nature in the heart of the city. It provides me with many of my base materials, wood, glass, old lumps of metal, the odd fish. It is always changing, reminding me to do something different everyday.

A: Are you influenced by any artists/creators? If so, who?

MK: At the beginning of my career I worked very closely with my brother Adam, he now works in the USA (North Dakota), We still have a strong connection, often working on the same themes without consultation. I am very prolific but his energy makes me seem sluggish. At the Wimbledon Studio complex where I’m based, I am surrounded by a talented group of artists, each of them to some extent has an influence on me.

A: Humour forms such a large aspect of your work, can you explain why this holds such an important role?

MK: I think it was Edward De Bono that said “Humour is by far the most significant activity of the human brain”. When I was a growing up in rural Essex I was surrounded by naturally funny people. My Dad used to come home with Private Eye and Punch magazines. I was/am obsessed with the cartoons.

Humour was just there, it first surfaced in my work when I created the Blah blah blah range of greetings cards. In my first ever crit at art school I was told that I had to be more serious, I decided then to go the other way and spent the next 3 years proving that humour has a well deserved place in the creation of work

A: Your sculptural pieces incorporate both found and recycled objects as well as the more common materials such as acrylic, bronze and plaster. Can you expand on this? What made you want to explore materials in this way?

MK: I prefer the term ‘salvaged’, I picked this habit up from a builder I worked for in Suffolk as a teenager, he had an amazing workshop rammed with objects he’d collected/found over the years. The search for salvageable objects often leads down another path, while looking for storm damaged trees in Battersea Park, I spotted a crushed oil drum in a skip, it’s stunning, I dragged it back to the studio, it will be there for months before I marry it with other objects and materials. I have just completed a piece using wooden bowling balls that I found 25 years ago. I like to live with the objects for a while before giving them new life.

A: With your use of found objects, would you say memory plays an important role in your artwork also?

MK: Yes, in particular the pieces that incorporate toys, the initial body of work was put together using my kid’s toys that were on their way to the charity shop or dump. I took a detour via the studio, looked at the toys in a different way and the memories of playing with my kids flooded back, I wanted to capture this feeling. When my daughter first saw the clock piece (aesthetica art prize entry) she started to cry. Her emotional attachment to the toys was stronger than I thought.

A: Throughout your career, can you remember a specific review or comment that’s made a lasting impression on you?

MK: There have been several moments that stuck, that first critic at art school made me realise if I couldn’t take it on the chin I might as well go home.

The best advice I have ever had was from a wood work teacher at school in Essex who said, “If you have an idea, make it, if you don’t like it, break it”.

A: And lastly, what do you have planned for the future?

MK: My year is structured around 2 open studio shows a year in Wimbledon, one in May and one in November. I love opening the doors, and sell enough work which affords me the luxury of being flexible about entering competitions and fairs throughout the rest of the year. This is a situation that has evolved over my 3 years at Wimbledon Art Studios, at the moment it suits the way I’m working and I can’t see a reason for changing it….If it ain’t broke….!

I spend a lot of time in New York and will be looking into exhibiting there sometime next summer. I will be working on a couple of installations, one is a huge wall of the speech bubble tiles which will be reproduced by a ceramics firm in Stoke.

See Mat Kemp’s artwork in the current issue of Aesthetica out now

Images courtesy the artist