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HomeNewsArchivesKEMMLER'S MUCH-AWAITED SHOW IS A BEST SELLER

KEMMLER'S MUCH-AWAITED SHOW IS A BEST SELLER

An artist who sells 17 original paintings by the end of the opening reception at a gallery — one shy of half the 36 works in the show — is doing something right.
Jens-Peter Kemmler attained that distinction Sunday at Mango Tango on St. Thomas, where the turnout, according to gallery owner Jane Coombes, was "the biggest crowd I've ever seen here."
Coombes had a clue that it was coming when she was inundated with telephone calls the previous week, as information promoting the exhibition began to appear in the media. So did Kemmler himself when just about everyone he ran into said they were planning to be there.
Why all the fuss? To say nothing of the outlay of funds?
Because Kemmler is a consummate Caribbean artist, and because this is his first solo show in so long he literally can't remember.
The last one "was at the Virgin Grand, back when it was the Virgin Grand," he says by way of time reference. The one-time Wyndham resort has since been the Stouffer's and is now the Renaissance. That puts the date pre-Hurricane Hugo, which is significant in Kemmler's case.
The 1989 hurricane destroyed his home and studio in Liliendahl near Mountain Top. Six years later, Hurricane Marilyn did it again — except not the studio that he personally had rebuilt. "It withstood Marilyn," he recalls, "and I resided in that — a 12 by 15 foot floor space" — while the main house "was razed and rebuilt from the slab." (He still hasn't had time to sort through the boxes of salvaged paperwork, which is why he can't say exactly when the Virgin Grand show took place.)
Over the last decade, he "painted all along, but certainly not on any scale — a piece here, a piece there, minor entries into shows." Except for two works, the art on display at Mango Tango "was all created within the last two months," he says.
The exhibition comprises 18 oils — on canvas, on paper and on wood — and 18 watercolors, plus two prints. In size, they range from miniatures perhaps 6 by 10 inches to several works at least 30 by 40 inches and a triptych that spans nearly 7 feet.
Multiple pieces address a theme. There are 11 florals, half a dozen scenes painted on site in Dominica, and four West Indian cottages. Kemmler's technical excellence and respect for his subject matter is one of his appeals. Another is his combining of unexceptional elements in quite unusual ways. Two vertical scenic panoramas, for example, employ the common technique of positioning a floral object as framing element along one side. Typically this would be a tree — perhaps a flambouyant, or an inclining palm.
But Kemmler chooses instead to use an orchid plant, seen close-up, as if the viewer were seated on a veranda or even peering through an unseen window at the faraway scene. In "Lady of the Night," it overshadows the view from the top; in "Golden Vanda," it reaches up from below. The effect is at first surprising but very accommodating, adding an intimacy to the works. (The artist has a natural affinity for the blooms, having at his home "a small collection of what was once a large orchid collection.")
His combining of the intimate and the far-removed is seen also in the two side portions of the triptych, a view toward the cruise ship dock from the vicinity of Villa Santana on Denmark Hill. At the left, two men are seen from behind in the foreground, admiring the view themselves. At the right, on a nearby balcony, a couple stands taking in the sights below along with whoever is looking at the painting.
Kemmler is a painter of fidelity, not of fantasy. Yet it's hard to envision a dreamier scene than "D'Auchamps Estate," a floral wonderland in which a couple is barely visible at the far end of a path. This is one of the works he produced during a recent "painting vacation" in Dominica. For half of that time he stayed at a cottage on the estate, which offers walking tours of a variety of different types of cultivated gardens, from fields of multicolored anthuriums to local produce plantings.
While his style of painting might be considered traditional, his subject matter often is not. Urban reality has a place on his palette, but couched in comfortable visual terms. In "Market Day with a Difference," market women mingle with young men in dreadlocks. "High Times post-Safari Disco" captures three young men sharing camaraderie and something more at the foot of the former Heritage Manor Inn across from the entrance to the even more former Safari Lounge.
Two of the large watercolors are images the artist knows well — "Di's New Home," picturing his cat inside his rebuilt home, and "Amaryllis" in a pot on his terrace. "I like to paint things around me, things that I'm familiar with," he says. Yet he's always on the lookout for something new — often finding it in familiar places. "Walking around town, you stumble upon images that, the minute you see them, you know this would make for an interesting painting," he says.
The two prints in the show have special significance. One, depicting Fort Christian seen through the courtyard garden of the nearby Francois Building, was used for a poster promoting the show. The other, a Charlotte Amalie harbor scene, has been adopted by Cardow Jewelers, where Kemmler has his day job of long years' standing, for promotional use, including reproduction on a new line of high-gloss shopping bags.
In a clever consumer education exercise, Mango Tango has utilized the fort print to demonstrate the effect of different framing techniques. The full vertical poster with a wide hunter green mat and a square of the art image alone, matted in off white minus the poster lettering above and below, are displayed side by side.
The original works, except for the triptych, which is $4,300, are priced from $75 for small florals on wood to $1,875 for a large watercolor. Interestingly, the watercolors for the most part come dearer than the more durable oils.
Kemmler's work is hanging only for two weeks, until March 11 (the next day, a new Donald Laurent Dahlke exhibition is to open). But Kemmler isn't even waiting until then to begin work on his next show. "I was planning for the next one, actually, before I finished this one," he says. He's not talking about painting per se. "The actual painting part is a minor thing," he explains. "People ask, ‘How long did it take you to paint that?' and it's such strange question. You have to first create the concept of what you are trying to express. The thinking process, the color scheme, the lighting, the mood. Then work it out in sketches. You can get, like, writer's block."
Once he gets to the painting part, he often has multiple pieces going. "In watercolor, there are certain days when drying takes a long time, and in oil, the same thing," he notes. "I usually create a series of paintings of a similar theme at a given time. The four cottage paintings in the show I created at the same time, working on each one every day for about a week."

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An artist who sells 17 original paintings by the end of the opening reception at a gallery -- one shy of half the 36 works in the show -- is doing something right.
Jens-Peter Kemmler attained that distinction Sunday at Mango Tango on St. Thomas, where the turnout, according to gallery owner Jane Coombes, was "the biggest crowd I've ever seen here."
Coombes had a clue that it was coming when she was inundated with telephone calls the previous week, as information promoting the exhibition began to appear in the media. So did Kemmler himself when just about everyone he ran into said they were planning to be there.
Why all the fuss? To say nothing of the outlay of funds?
Because Kemmler is a consummate Caribbean artist, and because this is his first solo show in so long he literally can't remember.
The last one "was at the Virgin Grand, back when it was the Virgin Grand," he says by way of time reference. The one-time Wyndham resort has since been the Stouffer's and is now the Renaissance. That puts the date pre-Hurricane Hugo, which is significant in Kemmler's case.
The 1989 hurricane destroyed his home and studio in Liliendahl near Mountain Top. Six years later, Hurricane Marilyn did it again -- except not the studio that he personally had rebuilt. "It withstood Marilyn," he recalls, "and I resided in that -- a 12 by 15 foot floor space" -- while the main house "was razed and rebuilt from the slab." (He still hasn't had time to sort through the boxes of salvaged paperwork, which is why he can't say exactly when the Virgin Grand show took place.)
Over the last decade, he "painted all along, but certainly not on any scale -- a piece here, a piece there, minor entries into shows." Except for two works, the art on display at Mango Tango "was all created within the last two months," he says.
The exhibition comprises 18 oils -- on canvas, on paper and on wood -- and 18 watercolors, plus two prints. In size, they range from miniatures perhaps 6 by 10 inches to several works at least 30 by 40 inches and a triptych that spans nearly 7 feet.
Multiple pieces address a theme. There are 11 florals, half a dozen scenes painted on site in Dominica, and four West Indian cottages. Kemmler's technical excellence and respect for his subject matter is one of his appeals. Another is his combining of unexceptional elements in quite unusual ways. Two vertical scenic panoramas, for example, employ the common technique of positioning a floral object as framing element along one side. Typically this would be a tree -- perhaps a flambouyant, or an inclining palm.
But Kemmler chooses instead to use an orchid plant, seen close-up, as if the viewer were seated on a veranda or even peering through an unseen window at the faraway scene. In "Lady of the Night," it overshadows the view from the top; in "Golden Vanda," it reaches up from below. The effect is at first surprising but very accommodating, adding an intimacy to the works. (The artist has a natural affinity for the blooms, having at his home "a small collection of what was once a large orchid collection.")
His combining of the intimate and the far-removed is seen also in the two side portions of the triptych, a view toward the cruise ship dock from the vicinity of Villa Santana on Denmark Hill. At the left, two men are seen from behind in the foreground, admiring the view themselves. At the right, on a nearby balcony, a couple stands taking in the sights below along with whoever is looking at the painting.
Kemmler is a painter of fidelity, not of fantasy. Yet it's hard to envision a dreamier scene than "D'Auchamps Estate," a floral wonderland in which a couple is barely visible at the far end of a path. This is one of the works he produced during a recent "painting vacation" in Dominica. For half of that time he stayed at a cottage on the estate, which offers walking tours of a variety of different types of cultivated gardens, from fields of multicolored anthuriums to local produce plantings.
While his style of painting might be considered traditional, his subject matter often is not. Urban reality has a place on his palette, but couched in comfortable visual terms. In "Market Day with a Difference," market women mingle with young men in dreadlocks. "High Times post-Safari Disco" captures three young men sharing camaraderie and something more at the foot of the former Heritage Manor Inn across from the entrance to the even more former Safari Lounge.
Two of the large watercolors are images the artist knows well -- "Di's New Home," picturing his cat inside his rebuilt home, and "Amaryllis" in a pot on his terrace. "I like to paint things around me, things that I'm familiar with," he says. Yet he's always on the lookout for something new -- often finding it in familiar places. "Walking around town, you stumble upon images that, the minute you see them, you know this would make for an interesting painting," he says.
The two prints in the show have special significance. One, depicting Fort Christian seen through the courtyard garden of the nearby Francois Building, was used for a poster promoting the show. The other, a Charlotte Amalie harbor scene, has been adopted by Cardow Jewelers, where Kemmler has his day job of long years' standing, for promotional use, including reproduction on a new line of high-gloss shopping bags.
In a clever consumer education exercise, Mango Tango has utilized the fort print to demonstrate the effect of different framing techniques. The full vertical poster with a wide hunter green mat and a square of the art image alone, matted in off white minus the poster lettering above and below, are displayed side by side.
The original works, except for the triptych, which is $4,300, are priced from $75 for small florals on wood to $1,875 for a large watercolor. Interestingly, the watercolors for the most part come dearer than the more durable oils.
Kemmler's work is hanging only for two weeks, until March 11 (the next day, a new Donald Laurent Dahlke exhibition is to open). But Kemmler isn't even waiting until then to begin work on his next show. "I was planning for the next one, actually, before I finished this one," he says. He's not talking about painting per se. "The actual painting part is a minor thing," he explains. "People ask, ‘How long did it take you to paint that?' and it's such strange question. You have to first create the concept of what you are trying to express. The thinking process, the color scheme, the lighting, the mood. Then work it out in sketches. You can get, like, writer's block."
Once he gets to the painting part, he often has multiple pieces going. "In watercolor, there are certain days when drying takes a long time, and in oil, the same thing," he notes. "I usually create a series of paintings of a similar theme at a given time. The four cottage paintings in the show I created at the same time, working on each one every day for about a week."