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Peak District artist Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp

PUBLISHED: 09:00 25 May 2014

Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp working at her vintage sewing machine

Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp working at her vintage sewing machine

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The Peak District landscape and its history have proved both subject matter and inspiration for Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp

Solomon's TempleSolomon's Temple

Recalling her emotions when she moved a decade ago to her present home in the small village of Earl Sterndale, artist Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp said, ‘During the 25 years that I had lived in South Manchester I had often felt like an alien, not because I had been born in an another country, but because I had never been able adjust to city life after spending my early years in the rural north of Sweden. Moving to the Peak District felt like coming home.’

The move also marked a turning point in Ingrid’s development as an artist. She told me, ‘I had never thought of myself as a landscape artist during my time in the city, but all that changed when I arrived in Derbyshire, where it is impossible not to be moved by the beauty of the countryside.’ Pointing to the spectacular view visible from her window of the twin peaks of Parkhouse Hill and Chrome Hill, she added, ‘Inspiration is all around me here.’

The fruits of that inspiration are on display at Ingrid’s current one-person exhibition at Buxton Art Gallery. The show is called ‘Landmarks’ and comprises a stunning collection of mixed media works, many of which tell stories about some of the most iconic places in the Peak District. The legends associated with these places are brought vividly to life through combinations of mono printing, collage, crystalline watercolour, textiles, tissue paper, printed paper and other recycled materials.

Ingrid’s artistic skills were fostered during her childhood on her father’s farm, where she was left to create her own entertainment, principally through reading and art. Her grandmother taught her to sew, crochet and knit, and she loved drawing so much that she would even doodle on her father’s business papers. Despite her love of art and literature, she opted for a degree in social work after leaving school, before taking up work as an adult education provider.

Headstone Viaduct in Monsal DaleHeadstone Viaduct in Monsal Dale

The offer of a place on a training course brought Ingrid to Manchester, where she indulged in her love of all things English. After returning to Sweden, she taught English language teachers, who extended their studies by attending courses that she had set up in Manchester. Eventually, she moved permanently to the city, where she married and was responsible for setting up a new British Studies unit at the university.

As time went by, Ingrid’s thoughts gradually turned to her old love of art, particularly when her department was threatened with a reduction in funding. She had already taken a course at the Manchester College of Art, but her deliberations about a change of career did not come to a head until 2000. She said: ‘The millennium marked a turning point in so many ways. My father died, my marriage broke up and I realised the time was right for me to leave my job and become an artist.’

As luck would have it, a large confederation of artists was being established at Vernon Mills in Stockport. Ingrid joined the group and quickly became a leading light, helping to put on workshops and exhibitions. Her own work was exhibited to much acclaim in a solo show at Stockport Art Gallery, with one critic hailing her as an accomplished ‘narrative artist’, She said, ‘I had not really thought of myself as a narrative artist before, but I realised that was exactly what I had become.’

When Ingrid moved with her second husband, John, to Derbyshire, she became a member of Peak District Artisans and joined High Peak Artists, which allowed her work to be on permanent display at Buxton’s ‘Gallery in the Gardens’. In 2012, she was given a commission to design the front cover of the programme for the Buxton Festival, resulting in a magical illustration of Buxton Opera House. Earlier this year, she collaborated with other artists to put on an exhibition called ‘Beat the Blues’ in Buxton’s Pavilion Arts Café, designed to brighten up the dark days of January and February.

At the purpose-built studio at her house in Earl Sterndale, Ingrid runs various workshops, with sessions covering collage and mixed-media techniques, as well as instruction in stitching, when she makes full use of her trusted vintage Swedish sewing machine. A couple of days after our interview, she was due to run a ‘birthday workshop’ in response to a lady who wanted her fiftieth birthday to be a lovely celebration of friendship by inviting friends and family to join her in the making of a large wall-hanging using fabric and stitching.

Meanwhile, Ingrid’s ‘Landmarks’ show is in full swing at Buxton Art Gallery, where the narrative in many of her pictures is helped by carefully-chosen words integrated into the compositions. Ingrid says: ‘I have always loved words and, some time ago, I decided that I would give myself permission to insert words into my pictures. Usually, the composition suggests a choice of words, but a phrase or a quote could even be the starting point for a painting.’

In her picture of the Headstone Viaduct in Monsal Dale, which is the title piece for her exhibition, Ingrid has sneaked into her composition a lovely line from a Van Morrison song: ‘If I ventured in the slipstream, between the viaducts of your dream.’ By way of contrast, the starting point for a composition called ‘Clearing’ was actually a powerful poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012. His words form a major element in the composition.

Pictures of familiar Buxton landmarks in the exhibition include a painting of Solomon’s Temple, which features a quote from ‘Solomon’s Song’, and the Bandstand in the Pavilion Gardens, depicted by Ingrid as an iron structure which has been magically softened by layers of snow. Several other iconic buildings in the Peak District are the subject of a number of other works, while some pictures have been inspired by natural features, especially those that the artist has discovered in the landscape close to her home.

Describing a painting called ‘Mood Indigo’, Ingrid said: ‘It is based on photographs taken in a thunderstorm on a hill above Earl Sterndale. I felt very near to the sky in that field; a bit exposed to lighting! The colours were surreal and intense at the time, which reminded me of “Mood Indigo”, one of my dad’s favourite pieces of music. Another picture called “The Magic Wood” depicts a secluded place between two quarries near here. People don’t often go there, but it is eerily beautiful with light seeping through the trees. The quote is from a Joan Baez song entitled the “Magic Wood”’.

When the ‘Landmarks’ show is over, Ingrid will begin preparing for an exhibition in Umeå, a city close to the area in northern Sweden where she was brought up. She will be collaborating with two other artists on a show to commemorate the city’s selection as the European City of Culture for 2014. The theme for Umeå’s special year will be the role of culture as a driving force for human growth. As always, every picture in Ingrid’s contribution will have a story to tell.

Ingrid Karlsson-Kemp’s one-person exhibition ‘Landmarks’ is showing at Buxton Art Gallery and Museum from 1st March to Monday 5th May.

For more information about Ingrid’s art and details of her workshops, visit www.ingrid-karlsson-kemp.co.uk (tel: 01298 83394).

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