The Story of Kemp Hall and my friend, Johan, a Flemish Surrealist

Kemp Hall

Several years back, a group of artists were working in a wonderful building named Kemp Hall in Frederick, Maryland. And it was there where I met my friend, Johan Lowie. Kemp Hall stands on the corner of Church Street and Market, right at the heart of downtown. We were on the third floor, in the corner facing the street. We had luxurious tall windows drawing in the beautiful Maryland light. Kemp Hall played a significant role in the American Civil war and we were warned that history re-enactors might visit us in our studios.

Kemp Hall in 1870

The only drawback to Kemp Hall was that the studios were on the third floor and there was no elevator. So, we had to haul all that sculpture stuff up and down those dreadfully long sets of stairs. I focused mainly on drawing and painting during that time up there.

Kemp Hall Studio

A Voice in Ramah

And, yet, it was in Kemp Hall where I heard the radio broadcast of the Virginia Tech shootings and I was finishing up a portrait of a boy who had died suddenly. I was, also, working with a model on a seated figure, but was overcome with the radio broadcast and the death of children. The sculpture turned into “A Voice in Ramah.”

“A Voice in Ramah”

My Friend, Johan, a Flemish Surrealist

While many remarkable things happened in Kemp Hall, several friendships were also forged. I would like to introduce you to Johan Lowie, a Flemish Surrealist. Johan uses paint to describe the inner world of dreams and emotions. Even though we approach art with a different form, we both are interested in discovering the inner workings of the human mind and heart. Johan does these wonderful dreamscapes, one of my favorites being “The Tides.” I love the way the figure just hovers, as though he had been lifted from his bed, or brought down from a cross. The way the white paint meets the shadows is reminiscent of fog, or that sort of dreamy fuzziness one experiences during sleep. The figure floats in front of a church interior on one side and a domestic dwelling with a gambrel style roof to the other. Is the figure caught between the sacred and the domestic? And I love this about surrealism: we all bring something a little different to the work, our own dreams and imaginings. The work takes on a meaning for each viewer. And yet, I’m eager to hear what the artist has to say about the surreal narrative.

“The Tides”
Johan Lowie
oil on woodboard
28″H x 24″W

Johan and I shared space on the third floor of Kemp Hall with a handful of other artists, but when word got out that the owners of the building had decided to no longer rent to artists, we panicked. Were would we go? Where would be find this kind of light? This kind of artistic companionship?

Fortunately, the Blue Elephant on 5th Street (Now the Griffin Art Center!) had a bit of space that they could carve out for us. So, Johan and I made two little studios at the edges of a gigantic ceramics studio. The ceramics studio is now a large painting studio at the Griffin, and Johan has a fantastic studio in the back with two terrific windows.

You can find more about Johan’s work on his blog: Everyday a Work.


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