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Artists realism makes paintings more lifelike
"Working Lab," a painting by Gainesville artist Jay Kemp. Kemp was recently nominated to be the Ducks Unlimited 2011 Artist of the Year. The group will sell prints of "Working Lab" to raise funds for wetland conservation. - photo by For The Times

THE BLITZ: White County at Chestatee


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A glance at his work might lead you to believe that Gainesville painter Jay Kemp is a photographer.

But take notice, and you’ll see the harmonious color combinations, composition and "life" leaping from his paintings often makes them more realistic, in a way, than photography.

"When you experience something yourself, you can take a picture of it, but it doesn’t ever seem to do it justice," Kemp said.

Kemp said the fact that photographers have to focus on one element of a scene, whereas painters can put the focus on as many as they want, gives him the ability to make his paintings more lifelike.

"I am a realist, and I make a lot of changes in my paintings that go a little bit away from reality to overemphasize texture and depth," he said.

Kemp, a hunter and an outdoorsman, draws from memories and hours spent in the woods to create his realistic works.

"I have a little bit of a rural heritage," he said. "Putting man-made structures in an agricultural or a rural setting, accompanied by water or wildlife, is kind of nice to me because it shows how wildlife can exist with man in harmony, and how we live amongst the wildlife."

Kemp said he sometimes uses 500 different reference materials for a painting — from hides and furs to photos, magazines and books — but it is his life as an outdoorsman that connects him with his subject matter.

"To be there and to be able to feel the air, smell the scent of the woods and just see something breathing and living and watch things unfold in nature as the dawn breaks or as the sun goes down and the woods fill with life ... It’s totally different than looking at a handful of snapshots," Kemp said.

He has been a professional artist since 1991, and recently was nominated to be the Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year for 2011.

As a nominee, Kemp’s painting, "Working Lab," featuring a yellow lab leaping over cattails into a pond, will be printed for sale by Ducks Unlimited and sold at events to raise money for the organization.

"They’ll select nine paintings and they’ll make prints of them, and those paintings are sold at the banquets," Kemp said.

Kemp said he spent seven weeks on the painting, inspired by a lab belonging to his brother.

"We were hanging out one Sunday and she was putting on a show," he said. "She’s a real athlete and she was jumping in the water, just flying through the air."

Kemp said he very carefully planned every element of the painting, working from reference photos and the memory of that day.

"I put every cattail exactly where I wanted it," he said.

A decade ago, Kemp went from working with art publishers to working one-on-one with groups whose causes he said he feels passionate about.

Kemp works with several conservation groups, including Ducks Unlimited International, Ducks Unlimited Canada, the National Wild Turkey Federation, Whitetails Unlimited and the Quality Deer Management Association, where his paintings help raise money for each organization.

"I’m working with several conservation groups, and the profits go to protect the plants and the animals I love," he said.

"I’m an outdoorsman and a sportsman and I believe in protecting our planet... and I believe in managing our wildlife to keep them healthy."

You can vote for Kemp as the Ducks Unlimited 2011 Artist of the Year at The deadline for voting is Feb. 15.