The Brilliant Vincent Kamp: Interview

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