Painter Vincent Kamp is unusual in that he sometimes creates not just one painting but perhaps six or eight separate scenes from an single imagined narrative story.
His PR man told me that Vince is “fascinated by the dark, gritty, underground world of urban subculture. His paintings delve beneath the surface of social class, creating intense portraits of charismatic people in a fused background of atmospheric lighting, sexuality and impending violence.”
“Fuck me!” I thought.
So I went and had a chat with him.
JOHN: Someone must have said Hogarth when describing your paintings?
VINCE: I think Hogarth is much tighter than me. I think I’m much looser. If you see my paintings up close, there’s much more evidence of brushstrokes and paint.
JOHN: Hogarth did lowlifes and scum-of-the-earths. That’s what he did. That’s what you’re interested in.
VINCE: A little bit. Yeah. Absolutely.
JOHN: But your background is ordinary middle class life?
VINCE: Pretty much. I worked at my parents’ company for a long time. My father is a designer of scientific instruments. And I’ve got my own family – two kids – So I painted in the evenings and at 4 o’clock in the morning. I was struggling away like that for many, many years.
JOHN: Any artistic influence from your parents?
VINCE: My parents are both from Holland. I have never lived in Holland, but there is a very strong connection to North Holland – that Flemish style. We were always taken to museums and art galleries. My parents have quite a few oil paintings. So I grew up with that. It has always been my sort of sensibilities: that sort of Renaissance style painting.
JOHN: So why the attraction to down-market East End of London type people?
VINCE: For me, it’s all about stories. Whether it is a glamorous story or whether it is just some scum-of-the-earth guy stealing and robbing… it’s all just about stories and journeys and character. That’s what I’m interested in more than anything.
The first thing I do is write a back story with a whole cast of characters. Then I use a casting director to find the people I need. Actors. Then I find the location. So, essentially, it is like I am making a film and I paint a storyboard, essentially, for the narrative I have already written down.
JOHN: You use actors for faces? Not real Faces? Have you encountered genuine naughty men?
VINCE: Let’s just say I’ve brushed with that world a little bit.
JOHN: Very appropriate. Brushed. But why not use genuine dodgy men?
VINCE: I am trying to create a narrative scene and, if you’re not an actor and I am trying to tell you the narrative, you may just look a bit wooden… If you could catch them in the middle of a deal or whatever else, then maybe that would be interesting, but actually a gangster being photographed when he’s not ‘gangstering’ is just going to be a guy sat there looking nervous because you are pointing a camera at him.
JOHN: You take photographs?
VINCE: Oh yeah. Yeah. I explain the background of the scene to the actors. I’m talking to them, directing them and snapping away with my camera.
JOHN: You paint from photographs?
VINCE: Yes. For me, if you ask a person to hold a pose for a painting, that is never reality. But, when you snatch that moment in time in a photograph and then paint from that – That is much more real than asking someone to pose for a certain amount of time while I paint for however many hours.
JOHN: And you may alter what is in the photograph to change the person’s emotional look.
VINCE: Of course. Yes. Absolutely. I take hundreds of photographs. I might borrow the hands from one; the face from another. I do charcoal studies and then think: You know, what I’m gonna do is tweak this guy to look a little more gnarly or more apprehensive or whatever. So I change subtle details here and there… and create my own lighting.
JOHN: Between the photograph and the painting, there might be Photoshopping?
VINCE: Loads of Photoshopping… Tons…
JOHN: Why don’t you, in your head, do what the Photoshop will do? Wouldn’t that be quicker?
VINCE: Oh my God, no! Your reference is the most important part: getting that absolutely right. The painting, then, becomes more mechanical. Painting is very, very time-consuming. To hold an idea in your head for that length of time to get it exactly right is REALLY difficult. I have done it. But it is much better to use the tools that are available.
JOHN: With all this photographing of narrative stories, can a feature film be far off?
VINCE: I am directing a 15 minute short which we hope to start filming in mid-February. But it is at the early stages yet. It’s a screenplay I have written based on a show I did at the Ritz last month.
JOHN: That was a series of paintings…
VINCE: Yes. Called Diamond Roulette – six paintings… A heist thriller. The story is about a couple who are stealing from the high-end gamblers at the Ritz Club. People can lose £2 million or £3 million in a night – they have £10,000 chips there… In fact, they have £50,000 and £500,000 chips there… And these girls are often in the casinos and subtly take chips from the guys and someone spots this and sees an opportunity and that’s where the story starts.
JOHN: Being a director must have always been in the back of your mind.
VINCE: Of course I’m a massive film fan. I’ve always been fascinated about telling stories, always been writing stories.
JOHN: So, if you do shoot in mid-February, the short film will be ready for screening by…
VINCE: …by May at the latest, I hope.
JOHN: You are linked to a gallery near The Ritz.
JOHN: You have made money out of art. You have supported a wife and two children – aged 12 and 9 – not cheap. Yet you have no art school training at all. How did you build a career?
VINCE: Well, you sell a load of work first of all. Then you start getting people talking about you. And, pretty soon, the art galleries come knocking.
JOHN: How did DeMontfort know you existed?
VINCE: On Instagram.
JOHN: Was there a turning point when you started being really successful?
… CONCLUDED HERE …