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Greg S. Flood


Art Writing

Chris Jehly and Kurt Kemp in a debut collaboration at Lower Haters Gallery

On Sept. 9, 2011 the newest show at Lower Haters Gallery, San Francisco, 'No Room to Breathe' opened with works by artists Chris Jehly and Kurt Kemp. The offerings include collaborations and works by both artists individually. The works of these artists embrace show influences, respectively, from dark cartoon art in the case of Kemp and the newer style of underground street artists and the hip hop movement for Jehly.

Kurt Kept is a well known international figure in the printmaking field. The works included in this exhibition are all prints that have hand coloring and collaged elements added. While all the works were recently created, Kemp shows us that he still revisits earlier styles while exploring new ones in his work.

Kurt Kemp, Jennifer Sturgill, and Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

There are two exquisite works, ‘Man with a System’ and ‘Boy and His Dog,’ (both 2011) done in graphite and colored pencil, which display his older technique. The soft shading and delicate rendering fuse together to make open and welcoming pieces. This is despite the influence of surrealism, cartoon drawings, and Hieronymus Bosch on his compositions. ‘Man with a System’ is also a collaborative work with his wife Jennifer Sturgill, who contributed the large circular form on the left side of the composition.

The other works by Kept are all intaglio prints with hand coloring and collage. They display the darker, more threatening style which has appeared in his work in the last few years. These works show the same influence in the compositional rendering as the colored pencil works, but the coloring done with gouache and watercolors is heavier and more saturated. The handling, at times, can hide some of the details of his line work, but overall it reflects the troubled and dark times that we are living in today.

Kurt Kemp, Jennifer Sturgill, and Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

For inspiration, Kemp gathers ideas from the events in and around his life. ‘Fish Hand’ (2011) is a piece that arose from “having surgery on my left hand,” said Kemp. “After the surgery it smelled like a rotten fish, hence the dead fish interwoven in the fingers,” Kemp added.

Kurt Kept is a professor of printmaking at Sonoma State University, where artist Chris Jehly went for his undergraduate degree. The works by Jehly in this show represent his recent stylistic evolution stemming from his recently graduating from Columbia University with his MFA. Kemp had made a dramatic effect on Jehly’s work while he was a student and his time Columbia University has taken that, polished it, and pumped up the volume. Jehly’s work has always drawn its stylistic inspiration from graffiti artist, hip hop influences, and mainstream media events.

When asked about the inspiration for the works that he is showing, Jehly said that the “hyper exposure of sexual relationships by the media” was what had driven their creation. The piece ‘Country Isn't the Same Without a Lexus’ (acrylic on paper, 2011) shows a sinister black and white nude of a woman with legs drawn with animal print influences and a finger drawn like a bird’s talon across her abdomen. The figure not easily to see initially in the work because of the wild patterning of the background which allows it to camouflage into the overall composition. The talon, however, is easy to pick out and it holds the eye as the rest of the image resolves around it. It's presence sets the tone that pervades this drawing.

Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

The key inspiration for ‘Country Isn't the Same Without a Lexus’ comes from a news story about the 51 year old actor Doug Anthony Hutchison who married his 16 year old girlfriend. (More about this controversy can be found here.) The success of this drawing is because of the overall confusion stemming from the heavy patterning, which could be said to represent the state of confusion that many in the media and society at large have felt about this marriage.

Some of the best pieces Jehly has presented are his collages. One double composition, ‘Priest's Wet Dream’ & ‘Go Long,’ (collage, 2011) centers on the theme mentioned above by commenting on the sex and abuse scandals surrounding the Catholic Church. (For those unfamiliar with this scandal, information can be found here.) The other two, ‘Cheater Cheater Bullet Eater’ (collage, ink, colored pencil, gouche and graphite, 2011) and ‘Cycle’ (collage, graphite, and ink, 2011), are quite different in that they display more of an overall movement and chaos like in the drawing of the nude figure. The collage methods employed add greater layers of depth to the work and really give the view a lot to look and think about.

Kurt Kemp at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

The collaborations between these two are also revealing. One notable piece is ‘Women smoking as Lil' Wayne’ (intaglio with hand coloring and collage, 2011) This work is a portrait of a woman dressed as a Japanese geisha who is smoking a cigarette. There are many other elements surrounding the figure as well, adding to the work. According to Kemp, the original print edition was created by him and Jennifer Sturgill when he had a residency at Louisiana State University a few years ago.

The majority of the composition is Kemp’s, with Sturgill creating the hair of the figure. The piece was then given to Jehly to work on, where he cut out certain elements and collaged others onto it, adding layers of complexity. The result is a welcome variation on this version of the image from the others that have been seen. In the other collaborations, each artist can be seen in various levels of dominance to the other in the composition, but in the image of the geisha it is balanced.

Kurt Kemp at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

'No Room to Breathe' is on view at the Lower Haters Gallery until October 12, 2011. The gallery is located at 597 Haight Street, San Francisco, 94117, (415) 864-6549. The website for the gallery can be found here. More information and images of Chris Jehly’s work can be found here. Kurt Kemp is currently represented by the Hooks Epstein Galleries in Houston, the Davidson Galleries in Seattle, the Rosensteel Gallery in Phoenix, and the Cumberland Gallery in Nashville.

Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

Overall exhibition view of 'No Room to Breathe' at Lower Haters Gallery, San Francisco

Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

Chris Jehley at Lower Haters Gallery (Image by Greg Flood)

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