Chatham Meade Kemp

Chatham Meade Kemp teaches painting and drawing at William Carey University. She received her Master’s of Fine Arts degree in painting from Indiana University in Bloomington in 2007 and her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2004. From early on in life, Chatham’s life was centered around art, traveling to museums, and interacting with arts. She is the daughter of James W. Meade who has been an art faculty member at the University of Southern Mississippi for over 40 years and Myra Meade who taught art and ceramics to high school students and elementary school students, in addition to being a landscape painter. It is her pleasure and privilege both in teaching and artistic production to give back to her native south Mississippi.

My paintings celebrate my love of making discoveries with the expressive power of color and the physical process of layering paint on canvas. Each work walks a line between representation and abstraction. Certainly, they suggest natural forms such as plants, trees and flowers, not to mention weather patterns and other natural world references. Yet, first they are also concrete forms where I attempt to organize and harness the energies of color, shape, light, marks and patterns.

Fundamental to my paintings is the south Mississippi landscape that I call home. Here there is no “long view” of the natural world. Instead, one is perpetually staggered by the bright sun and sky and the intense, highly-charged colors of trees and flowers always so close at hand, blanketed by humidity. It is my hope that the paintings are like a long walk in this environment where one is, at times, overwhelmed by the sensations of light and color, but it is the overall impact of the experience that one remembers. What interests me in painting is composing an entire world made of fragments – a patch of light here, the suggestion of a color or a shape there – that flow together in a way that is not always “logical” temporally or spatially. I feel, as human beings, we have an amazing ability to revise, compress and fuse together elements that constitute the memory of our experiences. The tension of making these revisions and fusions happen on a canvas, whether it is through juxtaposing one color with another or suggesting forms that seem to jump from one moment in time to another, is what I believe, gibes my paintings their bite. My paintings aim for coherence among their various elements to achieve a kind of visual poetry. In the process, they are constantly being worked and reworked. Often it’s a fight in which layer upon layer is rewarded with a shrug and an overhaul. Marks succumb to more marks. Occasionally it’s not a battle at all, but an unfolding that requires patience and an occasional caress to get the painting to “happen.” Through this process of continuously working and reworking over a period of good and bad days, my hope is that a painting will surface. The thrill lies in the discovery of a particular arrangement of forms and n the discovery of a particular color palette. In many ways, I am trying to discover the identity of the painting and how to make it more of what it wants to be as if I am freeing the painting, instead of conceiving it.

Recently, I read the introduction to an exhibition catalog written by contemporary painter, Bill Scott in which he discusses fellow Philadelphia painter, Rose Naftulin’s reaction to the unexpected death of her husband. Each morning Naftulin would wake and for a second, feel completely happy. She had forgotten that her husband was gone. Then she would remember, of course, and cry. This idea of waking to complete happiness – of felling joy wholly and completely as one stands unconsciously on that split-second threshold of tragic reality – explains to me the painter’s craft. For me, painting is a moment of triumphant forgetting. When I paint, I am pushing hard against the tension of the real – in which love, tenderness and hope are not only mixed with, but often overwhelmed by meanness, dullness, ugliness and tragedy – in order to capture moments of pure joy and happiness. These paintings began during a cold winter in grad school when I often escaped to a botanical garden on campus to feel its warmth and humidity. The banana trees and elephant ears remind me of home and I began to surround myself with that feeling in the studio. A bright yellow painting on a cold, gray day made February not seem so cruel. Thus I began to try to understand how to paint.