Paula Kamps’ practice explores mediums traditionally considered peripheral to painting. She develops a technique midway between watercolour and drawing, scattering upon the canvas large swathes of ink that take the form of “stains”, as André Butzer describes them. These reveal figures, here and there – scenes of daily life, always fragmented.
Kamp’s new paintings – presented in her first solo exhibition at the gallery Sans titre (2016), titled “At the pawn shop” – attest to a radical geographical displacement in the artist’s life. Originally from Germany, Kamps recently moved to Chicago, experiencing new everyday situations and an environmental upheaval that influenced her painting. She relates in this new body of work what she calls “diaristic narrative”. Each memory or lived scene is like a new layer accumulating upon another.
The canvases depict elements specific to the heritage and urban design of sprawling American cities: barriers and fences, the social symbolism of which is not obscured by the artist. Certain paintings like ‘Plum Job’, highlight the privileges specific people enjoy in a stratified society. ‘Far From The Aisle’ acts as a satire of the government and the capricious mechanisms of a politics of politicians. The vultures circle above the most vulnerable. The crows absorb the emotions of the protagonists. Painted in the midst of a world health crisis, the works of Paula Kamps also recount ennui, and the games and strategies used to combat it. The artist speaks of the canvas as a skin permeated with feelings.
The very manufacture of the stretched canvas – by a superimposition of various textile canvases (linen or muslin) or transparent polyester on paper – creates a layering effect that plunges us into a dualism. In each of the paintings in this new series, the artist endeavoured to depict elements that come into confrontation: a setting and a character seem to blend into each other (‘Empty lots’), two presences face off (‘Freak Purple’). In Paula Kamps’ work, everything seems to be a matter of strategy, a balance of power. The scenarios presented by the artist are characterised by their ambivalence. The flowers and leaves, painted to scale, inscribe the canvases in established relation to reality, but also seem to take on an almost anthropomorphic character. Little by little they cover the surfaces and become invasive. The chess board grid accentuates this conflict and provides a framework for hidden parallel forces. Its architectural motif allows Kamps to integrate her characters and elements in a rigorous perspective but also sometimes, on the contrary, to obscure them in an infinite illusion.
The artist uses for the first time, among conventional brushes, the technique of airbrushing. Invented in the 1880s, the device permits the application of all sorts of paint types (watercolour, pigment, acrylic, or ink) upon a canvas without a need to touch it. This tool, in the form of a pistol, implies a certain distance. It is a distance that the artist embraces: she relates scenes, lived or imagined, without ever taking part, or including herself in the narrative. This new technique also generates, at times, unexpected events, like a lucky and accidental chemical reaction, as much in the very composition and colorimetry of the canvases, as in the relationship between the characters and the actions.
Paula Kamps (b. 1990, Germany) studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf with Tomma Abts and Elizabeth Peyton. She has been the subject of solo exhibitions at Kunstverein Heppenheim (2019), Spazio Nea, Naples (2018) as well as Kunsthaus Mettmann (2014). Her work has been shown in group exhibitions at Orchard32, New York (2019), at Carbon12, Dubai (2018) and at Kunstverein Reutlingen (2018). In 2021, her work will be presented in a solo show at M. LeBlanc, Chicago.