"Work and Play" Michael Kempson Solo Exhibition
The one-legged tin solider and Michael Kempson’s prints
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Steadfast Tin Soldier”, features 25 toy soldiers cast from an old spoon made of tin. These toy soldiers are identical, except for one that standsdefiantly on a single leg. He was the last soldiercast, when there was not enough metal to make him complete,but among this phalanx of tin soldiersheis unique, and consequently special. It is adeeply moving piece of writing, where Andersen examines the soul of thissolitary tin solider, inventing a narrative that captures the essence of a quiet, passionate and steadfast lovethatinevitably leads, tragically, to a melted heart.
Numbers have an inherent complexity, a dynamic comparable to the challenging process of printmaking. Michael Kempson’s printsdeploy the poetic language of numbers byintentionally and consistently comparingthe plural with the singular, andexploringthe rhythms of repetition in contrast to the focus applied to theunique. Inhis series Beauty and Banality, we seedistinct figures set among a cast of identical others. This interest in the individual offers, at the very least, an exception to the formality of the many: in Zero(2006) among the numerous skulls is the hint of one large coke bottle; in Sweet and Sour(2008) consumed coke cans dominate the sole milk carton; in Longing and Belonging(2014) a multitude of pandas overwhelm the lonely koala positioned in the corner,bottom right,a compositionechoed in the woodcut Domino Theory(2017). These areall comparisons between the recurrence of the “mass” and the idiosyncrasies of the “one”.
What is the meaning of this exceptional “one”? Could it be that in identifying the outstanding or distinguished,a discord is offered to that of the collective?Does it suggest that the counterpoint of opposing groups results in a silent conversation - a conversation between the big and the small that is ultimately inequitable? While one might see that being an exception is unfortunate, on the other hand this could also be a positive. Because the notion of being an exception is unique, it obviously has a distinction where the appreciation of its value becomes clearer relative to thelarger context. Thisexploration of the relative coexistence between the singular and plural has been an enduring area of interest inKempson’sart for the past eleven years.As is the case in the infinite potential of numbers,maybe there is a multitude of meaningsin Kempson’s prints. Or perhaps this complexity can be best expressed in the “one” like Andersen’s one-legged solider?
In Kempson’s most recent work Child’s Play (2016/17), his pursuit of the question of the singular and plural is still evident. The image isthe sum of many parts with a formal arrangement of toy animal figures that enhances the presence of the singular, unique and inseparable individual. These animals each representa different country, the panda for China, the bald eagle of USA, Canada’s beaver, the Spanish bull and Australia’s koala. Cuteness abounds. They are thoughtfully designed, with each animal arranged in trapezoid-like shapes of common component parts. There are touches of cubism, as well as a hint ofrealism in the portrayal of many deadpan emotional expressions. It reminds us of the manufacturing process of toys and their display in department stores - a never-ending assembly line of production. Using the editioning nature of printmaking, Kempson mass produces a plurality of cuteness. He also implies an inherent mediocrityin consumerism, an unavoidable by-product of industrial mass-manufacture: we drink the same beverage; play the same game; consume the same culture. In another context Kempson’s multiples of animals question thehomogenisation of humanity by asking, is there no room in the world for the imperfect, lone one-legged solider?