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Center for Spiritual Care

Integrating Body, Mind, Spirit & Creativity

Center for Spiritual Care 20th Anniversary

Friday, March 6, 5-7 p.m.
Opening Reception for Michael Kemp and Sean Sexton, Land Lines/Sun Circles

 

Ongoing exhibit 

Black Palms  Transfer Lithograph 1985 20” x 28” A landscape view from the yard at the residence of Sean and Sharon Sexton looking west.

 

 

Collateral Creation:       

The Letters of Mike Kemp and Sean Sexton

              What do artists talk about when they get together?  What really went on between Manet and Degas at the Café Guerbois in late-19th Century Paris?  Or in New York’s Cedar Tavern between De Kooning and Pollock?  We have the highlights, of course, and recollections, but very little of actual conversations.  For one-to-one exchanges of their thoughts, anxieties and insights into their working processes, we need to turn to letters.  These can be extraordinarily rich, as proven by those between the Van Gogh brothers and Pierre Bonnard and Henri Matisse, as well as  between Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly.  Today, when the art of letter-writing has all but disappeared, to stumble across a correspondence that has been going on between two artists for more than four decades is to behold a particularly rare treasure.  And treasure is exactly what the letters of Michael Kemp and Sean Sexton comprise.  

              They first met in Gainesville in 1979. Sean was completing studies at the University of Florida, and met Michael headed out to paint one morning with a friend in a landscape around Micanopy called the "New Studio."  They exchanged promises to paint together and a spark that still fires their friendship kindled immediately.  Their correspondence began inauspiciously with a card from Mike apologizing to Sean for missing his opening art reception at Kesl’s Coney Island Restaurant in town. His wife's horse was down with the colic and they had to wait for the vet. 

              It continued when Sean moved back to Vero to manage the family cattle ranch.  Somewhere along the line the letters turned into a form of journaling, a way to channel encouragement, hope and energy between them as they struggled and increasingly found success as professional artists.  But life kept interfering with art.

              Mike:  ...the aspects of my life [—] are piling up behind me as I spend more time on printmaking. Social constructs, economic necessities, long range planning, quality of life issues, family responsibilities, are like a pack of runners jostling me in the back as I try to make my deliberate way down a path to some unknown destination.  That path seems to be figurative art and I'm making progress with this line drawing. Seems imperative to go beyond the single nude figure study and there— at that juncture, the world becomes so large I don't quite know where to turn off. The sense of mortality intervenes and I wonder whether any particular course is the right one in the sense that I am willing to commit what is left of my life to it. 

              Sean: I think you'll find your realization when you are able to reestablish that intimacy with your work that everything and everyone (including yourself) has been keeping you away from.  Oh, it’s so difficult to have faith in that, to commit yourself to certain pain. But you must do it because you have to paint and since there's no choice about that, you have to make it as good for yourself as it’s going to get. So you commit yourself to what you believe in, what you're doing and say ‘I'm not backing down!’ (unless that picture and that idea are so ‘birth defective’ they  just can't walk and never will).  And in time, even months (years?) it will come! Sometimes you say, ‘I'm going to wait and see if I learn enough in a year's time to  be able to finish this damn thing’—So then you set it aside. Your commitment hasn't changed, it’s just on hold.

              They exchanged notes on museum shows they had seen.  Here’s Mike on a 2008 retrospective of Georgio Morandi at the Met:  It is hard to overstate the depth of revelation I experienced at the Morandi show, both the one at the Met and the   one at Pace Gallery. Until I began to digest the show, which took about three days,   I was simply not aware of the huge and pervasive influence Morandi had on me. The etchings especially are fundamental to my way of approaching that medium. In fact the still lifes with window, chair and fruit are deliberate attempts to employ Morandi principles -- straight lines, minimal contours, open areas -- without making prints that ‘look like’ Morandi. I have been wondering if I should begin again.

              Another letter found Mike ruminating: I believe that Cezanne, so devoted to natural motif, was constructing a parallel world of art based on his own principles of perception. These anomalies strengthen the reality of his art. How can I use this 110 years after his discoveries?  I think by pushing forward the means of art. The structure of composition and execution. That is apparently what Morandi thought and practiced: overlay the undeniable melodrama with exquisite paint, or lines or composition. This is all quite easy to say on vacation. The test will be if I can return home and put it in practice in the production of paintings and prints. I'm glad to  get it stated here, however. Never quite saw [it] that way before.

              They wrestled with getting their work right.  Sean wrote of a large painting: ....I finally think I've got the thing under control—the design mainly, which wasn't right. I'm getting to where I feel it like a pain when the composition isn't working, much like a spine when a vertebrate is out of whack, and nothing makes    it well but the ultimate finding of what's out of alignment and pushing it back to where it belongs. This design was quite that way and I began groping around to fix it almost as soon as I began painting the thing. (Nothing will reveal the deficiencies in your scheme quicker than the application of paint over a charcoal drawing!) So now I'm on to "level two" problems… 

In the end, they could never remain discouraged or stay away from their studios for long.  Wrote Mike: I'm off to work. Thinking about our etching project—waste some plates—dissolve some metal—dirty up our nails. I can't wait.           

              The letters of these two artists and friends merit publication, but these days that may be more a pipedream than a possibility.  Yet here they are, some of them, in this small but substantive show of works on paper by a pair of talented, mature artists.  They deserve your attention — don’t overlook  them.                                                                                                                                                                               -- Warren Obluck