Co-written by Jared Phanco
The weather is stormy and dark as we arrive at the train station to meet up with Vincent Kamp. Vincent — “Vince” — is known for his realistic paintings, depicting gritty lifestyles full of tension and glamour. Taking a great deal of inspiration from masters such as Rembrandt & Zorn as well as contemporary cinematographers, Vincent Kamp’s work is as distinct as the man himself.
Vince drives up to the station to pick us up in his shiny black Jaguar. As we step in, he drives us through the countryside, picking up friendly conversation as we head over to his home-studio positioned amongst the bucolic rolling hills of Surrey, seemingly a universe away from the grisly underworld portrayed in his paintings. Inside the secluded studio is packed with dozens of Vince’s paintings, inspiration boards, images and books. Ella Fitzgerald’s voice emanates softly from a record-player next to a Terminator skull as we sit down to chat with the man himself.
Can you tell us something about your work process?
My work always starts with writing a story. I tend to write in the form of a screenplay— it keeps it simple, nice and easy. I hire actors to pose for my compositions, so if I give them a screenplay, they understand the concept. They understand what I want, and they bring something to the table as well. The process is a collaboration. I’m just the guy that comes up with the basic idea – the framework – but there is so much that goes into the painting, from the people I work with, to the people I talk to, to the people I show the screenplay to... And then they go “well that’s cool, but what if you do this...” and that gives me more ideas. At the end of the day, I am the one painting it. It’s me holding the brush right at the end of it, but once you’ve painted a thousand paintings – like I have – you can paint in your sleep. So, I don’t have to think about the technical side of painting – its more about the story; creating a series of paintings. The hard bit is actually coming up with all that.
It’s funny that lots of young artists ask: “How do you do well?” And I say it’s a real shame that you think it’s to do with how good your painting is – the technical side of it is that there are actually thousands—if not millions— of artists (and artists who are way better technically than I am) but it’s really the story of what you’re trying to tell that matters. It is the idea that people buy. If you get hung up with brush strokes and things like that, it’s really only the art “officanos” who will appreciate that. There are loads of people who can do that but it’s not what it’s really about. I get the story together, hire my actors, find my venue and then get thousands of photos and it all comes back here. I do most of my compiling here: this is where I do my editing and photoshop. There is always a lot of distortion with your lenses, so you have to do a lot of pushing and pulling to make things work.
Is it different to painting from life?
Yes, it’s completely different. I’ve done tons of painting from life. You can’t get this result from painting from life. Artists are quite snobby with painting from life and that’s all well and good, but just you try and get an actor to hold a position that’s natural for that length of time that you need to make a painting—six hours or so. I don’t see painting from life as actual life, really. If you’re asking somebody to stay perfectly still for six hours or longer they’re going to stop maintaining the true intensity of the expression. It’s very important to paint from life whilst you’re learning to paint, but when you want to create a real narrative in your paintings then it’s just not possible to paint from life.
You incorporate script writing in your work often. Can you tell us something about your new work and how you’ve incorporated script writing and film in it?
Painting is my first love, but it is all based on cinema and film, which is also what I love. I wrote a screenplay for “Diamond roulette,” a series of six paintings about a diamond heist that happens in the Ritz. I wrote the story as a screenplay with no intention of turning it into a film, but a few people read it and encouraged me to make it into a film, so I just said “okay, let’s see what I can do.” I made a few calls and now it’s snowballed. Hopefully I’m gonna film in the Ritz mid February. The actor Tamer Hassan is going to play in it, hopefully it’ll end up at a film festival or something, it’s been really exciting. I already did the paintings with different people but I might do some more paintings for the story.
Your work reminds me a little of Tarantino. Who are your main inspirations?
Yes, absolutely — obviously I like Tarantino. There are people in painting that inspire me, purely from a technical point of view. People like John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Rembrandt. There are various people that I look at for how they create paint and drama and life. I look at cinematography a lot more, like Roger Deakins’ work – he is absolutely incredible. There are certain directors who go for a certain look – like David Fincher – that create a lot of drama in a scene. I think I look more to that and I kind of feel that maybe the art world is not that interested in the way I work. It’s not that I turn my nose up at the old masters, but I think that if you take the old masters (the Rembrandts for example), they’d be cinematographers nowadays, because they are obsessed with light and drama. Caravaggio especially is a crazy, reengaged painted – I wonder what he would have been nowadays; would he have been a painter or a film-maker?
What did you do before becoming a painter?
I’ve always drawn and painted and created throughout my life. My parents are originally from Holland and when I was five, they were planning to go back, but this is the “land of opportunity” for business, so we ended up staying. People say the Dutch heritage is why I like all the life. Frans Hals and Jan Steen influenced me with lots of good characters and expressions.
I ran my parents’ business for many years because my mum got cancer and died fifteen years ago and my dad was falling apart, so I stepped in, running the business. That took an enormous amount of time – I was getting up at four o’clock in the morning and painting every day. I was always telling stories, doing lots of writing, but then you’ve also got to run a business. Then, the family came along—I’ve got two boys—and life just gets in the way of your plans. Eventually, when the kids got to a reasonable age, I started to get time back, get a little more sleep, and it allowed me to concentrate on the art.
How long did it take you to get to the point you are at now?
The success has only been very recent. I went to Rome and studied with one of my favourite artists, Sean Cheetham (an American figurative painter). At the time I was only really doing private stuff and I was trying to guess
what would be successful in art. I always loved the Renaissance style of painting – lots of light, muted palette. Modern and abstract art was popular and where the money was, but I wasn’t interested in that. When I showed Sean some of my art, he said, “if that’s what you like, then that’s what you should do.” If you’re not authentic to something you really love then you just can’t make it. You’ll never be really good at it because you can’t fake something long enough to be really good at it. I then started doing what I wanted to do, creating these stories, painting these series, then the recognition came quite quickly. The gallery that I’m with now approached me and offered me a really good deal. I was a bit worried to begin with because the artists that they have are very different to me and I was worried they would try and steer me toward them, but they totally got what I wanted to do. Because I got the success a bit later on in life, I was set on what I wanted to do. The gallery really got on board with that. The first show I did, all the paintings sold right there and then, within the first hour. There were about 5-6 paintings, all very expensive – a lot more than what I was expecting. When you go to a gallery, you expect people to pay a lot of money for a painting and they recognised real value in what I was painting.
Would you say you have a target audience?
Maybe, because there is a certain style I paint and a certain type of person that likes this work. I do revolve around high-drama and high-tension because that’s the genre of films and TV I like to watch. I’m not ruling anything out – if there is a good story I wanted to tell that doesn’t involve these things then I will tell that story. The story I just did at The Ritz is different. It’s all high-end and gold and mirrors and paintings and crystal chandeliers. It’s completely different from the seedy nightclub in the last series I did (The Long Game). There are common themes, but they are different styles. Some people won’t like it, because the people are much more sophisticated in this one.
When you started doing art full-time, how did you meet these people?
The gallery puts on shows for me. I tell them the idea for the show and organise it all and they just have a list of customers who have bought similar work. They put out a catalogue to their galleries across the country and all their gallery managers suggest it to their customers. Eventually, it creates a group of people who like my stuff. I am getting more well-known through interviews and social media—that’s how Sam Smith found my stuff. As much as I can’t bear the social media side of it—I hate taking a 1.5 metre painting and just putting it into a tiny photo—you have to work with the tools you are given. That’s why it’s nice to do shows. In my last show, I had all the actors and the poker table in the gallery and I played a video of a guy telling a story of what happened that night.
What interests you so much about these places?
Our lives are all so sanitised and safe – there is no danger anymore. I think people are attracted to stories with a bit of danger, at least that’s the case for me because that world is so different from my day-to-day life. Everything is so safe now – there is police, CCTV everywhere. There is a lot of mundane existence going on. Hearing about people in this criminal world appeals to people—you can see that with the kinds of films that are popular in cinemas.
Transcribed and Edited by Evangeline Stanford, Digital Editor
Photos by Jared Phanco
All images are curtesy of Vincent Kamp