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Carel Pieter Brest Van Kempen

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Carel Pieter Brest Van Kempen

(Murray, Utah, 1958 - )

Carel Brest Van Kempen was born in Murray, Utah, in 1958. He says he has been fascinated with drawing ever since he could hold a pencil; he always drew. Because he grew up in Emigration Canyon and exploring the wilds was what children did then, his interest invariably has been in drawing nature. Carel didn't grow up knowing much about art, but his parents owned three books about these artists: Audubon, Rembrandt, and Salvador Dali. When he was in his teens and early 20s, he tried to be like Salvador Dali, and Carel feels he still retains some of Dali's influence in his compositions. Although Brest Van Kempen is a wildlife artist, he's not the typical western wildlife artist; more than half of his work is of tropical animals. He chose tropical wildlife because of his own interests, which has led him to spend large amounts of time in the tropics in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Brazil, Cameroon, Guinea, Madagascar, Kenya, and the Solomon Islands, among others. Carel calls himself an amateur biologist and ecologist, both of which are important in his artwork. The fact that he studied biology, not art, has influenced his art in ways that make it unique. Originally, Van Kempen did his own work with ignorance of what else was being done in wildlife art, choosing what he knew and was interested in. Now that he has become a recognized part of the national and international wildlife artist scene, he makes conscious choices that allow him to continue to follow his own interests, but that also maintain the niche he has found in the art world. In high school, Carel took a drawing class, and he has since gotten pointers from other artists such as Benders and Lester. Other than that, he is basically a self-taught artist whose drawing and painting skills come from years of dedicated practice, a biologist's attention to detail, and his own natural talents. Being a successful artist didn't come easily though. Carel left college because he didn't know what he wanted to do, and from 1976-1989, he held various jobs such as being a fry cook and working in a tannery. Although interested in art, making a living at it didn't seem possible. He says in 1988, he finally started painting pieces he felt he could show someone besides his family and friends and that he could sell. Having decided to commit himself to being an artist in 1989, Brest Van Kempen sold his house and spent four years living in his van, doing nothing except painting. He says there is nothing like abject poverty to help a person focus; he didn't even have the distraction of eating because he had just enough food to keep himself from actually starving. During those grueling years Brest Van Kempen figured out how to paint the way he wanted and now is very glad he did. Carel's art hasn't changed much since he decided to become a professional artist. He acknowledges that his work has gotten more detailed, his technique has gotten better, and he's gone through a real learning process. He believes he is pretty good at what he's doing, so now he isn't concentrating so much on learning. According to Brest Van Kempen, he gets bored easily if things are too easy, so he knows he will need to find other roadblocks, other challenges down the road. He expects in 15 years his art will be quite different just because he doesn't like doing the same thing over and over. As a wildlife artist, Brest Van Kempen tries to represent nature; "lots of stuff chasing other stuff," as he puts it. Although his work is evolving, Carel is sure it will always involve nature. His drawings and paintings are tightly rendered with themes that involve ecology and how animals relate to their environment; they are stories about how animals live. His sense of fun comes through in his work, he himself has fun painting them, some paintings are whimsical and some darker. Often these paintings feature animals with their prey, one about to catch another or to escape, the moment just before the climax. Carel's experience in tropical areas has given him the background to create realistic settings for his dramas, including details of the animals' natural habitats and other animals that would be in the environment. He is gratified when he sees someone whose eye is caught by a painting and goes closer and closer, to see the detail. If his paintings are interesting from a distance and also have qualities that draw people near to them, Carel feels the paintings are successful. Lizard Relay shows banded basilisks and green iguanas, Carel doesn't think of it as a sophisticated piece, both kinds of lizards like to be near water. When danger threatens, like the jaguarundi, the iguanas dive in the water and the basilisks run across it. Basilisks have long toes with rows of enlarged scales along the edge to give their feet a large surface area, and they run very quickly, never breaking the surface tension of the water, like skating across to safety. Both kinds of lizards are very common in Central America, near any river. Jaguarundi also like to hang around water eating lizards, birds, and other small animals. In this painting, the jaguarundi is spooking a bunch of lizards that are heading for safety. Carel used to keep his own reptiles but had to get rid of them when he lived in his van, trying to make it as an artist. Although now a successful painter, he says he has only a brown linole that hatched from an egg in a bird's nest fern he recently bought. However, he uses his years of experience with reptiles and other wildlife to produce what Dr. Vern Swanson, Director of the Springville Museum, says are the best and the most creative wildlife paintings around. Swanson says that it is particularly Brest Van Kempen's original use of color and his fine draughtmanship that sets his work apart from other wildlife artists. Carel Brest Van Kempen sells mostly outside Utah through touring museum shows and through galleries all over the United States and in other countries. For the last three years, his work has been sold at auctions through Christie's of London and is featured in galleries in North Carolina and Washington state. Some of his personal favorites are the Society of Animal Artists and other similar touring shows. He is accumulating an impressive array of awards and honors such as 1st place in the Doug Miller Art Show, two awards of Excellence from the Society of Animal Artists, the 1995 Best of Show from the Pacific Rim Wildlife show in Seattle, and from the Southeastern Expo in Charleston, South Carolina; the two biggest wildlife art shows in the United States. In addition to his many awards, Van Kempen was featured artist in the Pacific Rim Show and will be again this year. The Utah State Fair and the Days of 47 show both featured Carel's work, at the director's request. In addition to exhibiting, Brest Van Kempen illustrates books and magazines and his paintings can be found on art print cards by Advanced Vivarium Systems, inc. The September 1997 issue of InformArt (a magazine of art prints) highlighted Carel and his artwork.

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