Napoleon and Money Shots

On a Friday night, as the Berlin air weighed heavy and humid upon us, artist Will Kempkes welcomed us to his ground floor apartment. By 10pm we have arrived in the calm before the storm. A small group of people peer curiously at us around the door of one of the bedrooms, but he tells us he is expecting up to forty more friends to come over later in the night. 


The brothers

 Will with his brother Paul Kempkes.


He grabs a couple of beers and we follow him to his studio at the far end of the house. Here, he opens the drawers of a metal cabinet to reveal his most recent body of work. In a series of ink drawings, Will mimics techniques used by a household printer; moving his hand systematically from one side to the other to create images in a linear process. What fascinates him is the incorporation of natural human errors into a flawless technological system. He states “I can work fast like a printer but it’s never the same, I don’t want them to be the same.” He points out, unashamedly, the imperfections in his strokes; “If it is fucked up, it is because I have fucked up”. (Urging us soon after this statement not to gloss over his particular choice of words; “If I say something fucked up you write it.”)


Will and his brother Tschoris, aka Blues Wayne

Will and his brother Tschoris, aka Blues Wayne


He reflects the short attention span of a generation dominated by the bright lights of computer screens, with the internet at their fingertips whenever and wherever they want it. His portfolio includes an array of re-paintings, reinterpretations of the work of great artists such as Goya and Rembrandt. Despite my protestations that to draw from the imagination of another is to limit your own creativity, he expresses a fondness of the practical nature of recycling an image as opposed to working from life, retaliating that it is a “limitation sure, but there’s a kind of freedom in it.” For he is not restricted by the model who sits before him, but liberated by the “database of bodies” he finds within the World Wide Web.


Napoleon Crossing the Alps

 Will’s most recent work; a modernisation of Napoleon Crossing the Alps.


He admits his own impatience, declaring that he couldn’t spend two weeks painting an under layer only to cover it up at a later date. He flips around a huge canvas, which until now has mysteriously had its back to us, on which Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps stands re-envisioned. The horse rears on its hind legs, its eyes white with terror as Napoleon points triumphantly ahead. The shape and stance of both horse and rider mimic that of the original painting yet it is the background that brings it back with a bump to the modern day. He tells us, half laughing, that “actually first I wanted to make a huge picture of a cumshot then put an image on top. So I chose Napoleon.” This is indeed the final result; translucent murky white bubbles float in the sea of garish pink that forms the painting’s background, the picture’s foreground and background working in unison to create an impression that is jarringly mesmerizing. 



Jack Oakley chats with DJ Norbert F of Ambrotype


With the obligatory “art talk” done and dusted we climbed down the makeshift, wooden ladder to what Will calls the “party basement.” As more friends arrived, their arms laden with DJ equipment, and with my notebook tucked firmly out of sight, the conversation took a turn for the more jovial. Will began to loosen up, subsequently unleashing a charmingly brash personality; filthy mouthed yet undeniably likeable. It was Will’s brother, Tschoris (aka Blues Wayne) who took the helm as the DJ for the night and the room soon filled with house and techno; the obligatory Berlin soundscape. Soon the space was a sea of people as they swayed entranced by the soundsystem; wide eyed, their nostrils filled with the smell of sawdust. 


Jack & Will

 Jack is delighted to swap his chair for an exercise ball


Til next time…

  • Will Kempkes is represented by Anna Jill Lüpertz of AJLART and will be participating in the group show Handlungsbereitschaft at Kunstsaele Berlin 11th August – 2nd September 2012. Opening times: Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 6pm.