Celia Hempton’s painterly approach radiates outward from the canvas to encompass sculptural objects and installations, creating works that are both autonomous and always reaching beyond themselves. This is most forcefully conveyed through physical encounters with the work, where complex formal relationships between individual elements are spun into a pulsating whole.
Hempton’s solo show TIN at London’s Take Courage Gallery, 2012, is a case in point. It included floor-based painted sheets of artificially bright colours that fade together in a digitalised caricature of a sunset. A neon strip is laid on top of the sheets, its electric cable snaking across the floor. Resting just on the edge of the sheets is a large painting whose hazy sky repeats the fake sunsets at a lower wattage, pouring light onto the melancholic scene of an owl pecking at an array of haphazard detritus. This canvas is propped up against a pile of white styrofoam blocks, amongst which nestles another neon strip that imparts a soft pinkish glow to the surrounding walls. The installation evokes a certain artificial sentimentality that pervades modern life saturated by technology: the romance of the sunset sought for in the glare of the computer screen. And yet there is pathos invested in the works and in the contemporary human condition, through Hempton’s precise poetics of form, colour and classical and contemporary allusion.
TIN reimagines the digitalised contemporary landscape as ancient ruins or a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Something of this sense of ever-present calamity lingers too in Hempton’s treatment of the body at her solo show Cur at London’s Southard Reid, 2013. Hempton treats her subjects here with a blithe frankness that belies the gravity of the gender politics implicit in the work, shrugging off centuries of the male gaze’s objectification of the naked female body. In its place there emerges the energetic will to capture the body in a singular moment, resolutely unmonumentalised. This approach yields spare, energetically painted forms radiating with shocking blooms of colour. It is rare that a face is visible: these works are generous, with open legs, buttocks and lolling genitals. There is an overwhelming sense of the innate animation of living bodies that could never be born of the detached observation of their exterior form, but flows instead from the artist’s commitment to render her lived encounters with her subjects.
Celia Hempton was born in 1981 in Stroud, UK. She graduated from the Royal College of Art with an MA in Painting in 2007 and completed her BA in Fine Art at the Glasgow School of Art. She is represented by Southard Reid Gallery in London, where she has had solo shows in 2013 and 2011. She has also had solo exhibitions at Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, Aachen, Germany (2013) and Take Courage, London (2012), and has participated in group shows at David Roberts Art Foundation, London, (2013) and Studio Voltaire (2012). She has been awarded the Civitella Ranieri Foundation Fellowship, based in Umbria, Italy (2013) and the Sainsbury Scholarship in Painting for the British School at Rome (2008-10).