Arnold Joseph Kemp

I would survive. I could survive. I should survive. features recent paintings, sculpture, and photography by Arnold Joseph Kemp (b. 1968, Boston, Mass). The exhibition’s title, taken from a snapshot of a note in the artist’s studio, points to Kemp’s resolute commitment to the poetic gesture. Kemp’s interdisciplinary works resist essentialism and commodification by prioritizing the poetic, imaginative and playfully combative elements of self-making. 

These works ask us to consider the sensorial gestures that form the self and a people, the personal and the political, the historical and the present. Kemp stages encounters that invite the viewer into the artist’s own aesthetic considerations of himself and the world that makes him. Whether via his hands delicately grasping books that inform an autobiography or a painting scaled in dimension to the artist’s height, Kemp’s works unflinchingly offer up a politics embedded within a language of abstraction. It is within this space that we are able to join him in considering how we are made and how we make ourselves.

Exhibition Curator
Sampada Aranke, Manetti Shrem Museum Scholar-in-Residence

In the series POSSIBLE BIBLIOGRAPHY, Kemp photographs himself holding fifty-two titles from his personal library. These photographs offer up a consideration of study, specifically how histories and canons impact and are impacted by the personal, the political, and the collective. The gesture of touch is fully embodied by the artist’s hands, which appear across the series. The ways the artist holds each text serve as a reminder of how the books we read and own often offer us intimate moments of reflection and self-making.

Two paintings by Arnold Joseph Kemp.

Left: NIGHT WATCH, 2017-20. Graphite, ink wash and flasche on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Fourteen30 Contemporary, Portland Right: OUR FRIENDS TEACH US SOME THINGS AND OUR ENEMIES TEACH US THE REST, 2017. Graphite, ink wash and flasche on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Fourteen30 Contemporary, Portland


OUR FRIENDS TEACH US SOME THINGS AND OUR ENEMIES TEACH US THE REST and NIGHTWATCH are a part of Kemp’s ongoing painterly studies with the color black. Taken up as a modernist signifier of both chromatic and racial relevance, artists have experimented with the color black as an indicator as a “limit” of color itself. Kemp’s intervention in this long history undertakes a performative dimension. In this investigation, the artist’s canvas is 69 by 69 inches, which corresponds to his height. In this way, Kemp’s works open up a conversation about how painting might be a kind of mirror in which the self is imagined as absorbed in the canvas before us. To remark upon such a possibility is decidedly part of the artist’s intervention: that the history of modernism is always already Black and queer.

Dark Glass by Arnold Joseph Kemp installation photo.

Arnold Joseph Kemp, DARK GLASS, 2015. Stained glass and welded steel. Courtesy of the artist and Fourteen30 Contemporary, Portland

DARK GLASS features three delicate pieces of stained glass colored in red, black and green. These three colors are associated with Black nationalism and Pan-Africanism, two connected histories that call attention to fights for Black liberation. In Kemp’s hands, these pieces of glass overlap and rest on a metal pedestal, demonstrating their status as sculptural object. DARK GLASS can be seen as another investigation of the self where the artist considers how histories of Black self-determination might also be utterly fragile, dependent upon interdependency and mutual aid, and require a queer poetics of touch in order to take shape.