Jul 16, 2019

The Artist Behind the Images - an Interview with Carel

by Matt, Herbal Head Honcho

Over the years as the Almanac has grown in popularity, people have asked us who is responsible for our unique cover art, so this year we sat down with the artist, Carel P. Brest van Kempen, to get an insight into his life and artwork. Enjoy our Q&A!

Q.     Carel, you have been an award-winning painter of wildlife for a long time. What first sparked your interest in art and nature?

"Both things have been with me from the very start. Right after I turned four, my family moved to Emigration Canyon, which was the drainage that Brigham Young and the Mormon Pioneers followed into the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847. It was a wonderful place for a boy to grow up, and living there was a really important factor in shaping me. I took full advantage and spent as much time as I could exploring the backcountry. I used to carry a sketch pad around as a boy, and imagined myself as a 20th-Century Audubon, with grand plans to put together a big illustrated book depicting the animals and plants of the Wasatch Mountains. Since boyhood, I've always studied the natural world obsessively and enjoyed drawing and painting."

Q.     What aspects of your art do you find the most difficult or the most interesting?

"I think the hardest thing about painting is that the artist knows exactly what it is he's trying to communicate, and I find it's impossible to look at my own work from the point of view that the rest of the world sees it from. That makes it impossible to know whether a painting works or not. The most enjoyable part of painting a piece by far is working out the composition, which I do before I do any actual painting. This is where the creativity is."

Q.     You lead a unique lifestyle, somewhat removed from what other people might consider essential conveniences. Why?

"I don't feel the need for a car or a cell phone. As somebody who loves the natural world, I try to limit my consumption as much as I can. I love to ride a bicycle and find that a bike can meet 98% of my transportation needs. I find that a landline and a home desktop do all the cell phone tasks that I need. I only use a cell phone for travel."

Q.     What are the traits that you find most predictive of success for an artist?

"Developing the skills of drawing and painting are like any other field. You have to put in the work. Talent doesn't have all that much to do with it. Going beyond that point and creating important work, that's where talent makes a difference. You can't really teach a person to have a good aesthetic judgment or to have something interesting to say with their paintings."

Q.     What most drove the development of your talent?

"My theory is that I'm always learning lots of little things, then eventually I'm able to tie those bits together. It was during one of those jumps in my late 20s that I decided to try to be a professional artist. That was a very exciting time. I was completely focused on that goal, and throughout my 30s, pretty much all I did was paint. I put my belongings in storage and lived rent-free for three and a half years to make it easier to concentrate just on art. Another big growth moment for me was when I met Carl Brenders, an amazing Belgian artist. I met him when he was the featured artist at an expo in 1993. There's a marked difference in my paintings before and after that. He's continued to be a very good and generous friend as well as an inspiration."

Q.     What have some of the highlights of your career been?

"Studying nature in the field is crucial, and my favorite experiences have been in nature. Watching the courtship of Wreathed Hornbills in Indonesia, birds of paradise in New Guinea, tracking Drills (a large and very rare baboon) in Cameroon, mountain gorillas in Uganda...I have so many wonderful memories of the field. I've also been lucky to have had my work in a lot of really exciting places. One of the most memorable was at the National Museum in Taipei in 2000. I got to be featured in another similar show in Qingdao, China, in 2017. I just participated in a very exciting project that was unveiled in August 2018, “Silent Skies.” Artists For Conservation, a Canada-based organization, commissioned a 100-foot-long mural made up of 678 different 8-inch-square paintings depicting the Earth's endangered bird species."

Q.     Where can people find your work?

"Over the next year, my solo show will visit the Shafer Gallery in Great Bend, KS, the Chicago Academy of Sciences Notebaert Museum, and the Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences. You can see exhibit specifics and lots of examples of my work at cpbrestvankempen.com."