Artist of the Week Paris Kampel ’27 Paints Beyond Portraiture Lines

The first time I saw Paris Kampel’s ’27 work, I was hanging up pieces for the annual first-year art show in Kitao, our student-run art gallery. I held her skateboard in my hands with sheer awe. Her colors were fluorescent, her skin shining like a sophisticated rainbow on the stormy blue Taurus background. It was utterly breathtaking, and I immediately knew I wanted to interview her. 

When we finally sat down and shared Sci Cafe pound cake, I asked her to walk me through her entire portfolio, starting with her goat in the headlights painting.

“This painting was meant to emulate the feeling of driving late at night, and you see an animal stop right in front of your car. It’s freakily staring right at you. I remember it was late at night, and I took my little sister with me. She photographs me for all my paintings. It was pitch black outside, and we were in the driveway,” Paris said.

Paris’s relationships with her sisters are paramount to her paintings. They often help her with reference photos, and she even showcased her younger sister in one of her paintings shown at Kitao. 

She explained, “My idea was about sisterhood and how we’re genetically coded to be the same because we share the same DNA. But we’re also different people in a sense. So this binary code in the background is our shared DNA, hearts, and veins.”

Given how detailed her paintings are, I was curious about what formal training Paris received. I couldn’t help but assume that she was a child prodigy, so I was surprised by her response. 

“I learned from YouTube. That’s what I mean when I say I didn’t consider myself a painter because I never got any formal training in painting,” Paris said. “I had to learn how to paint during my junior and senior years of high school, which is something that was not offered at my school.”

Paris is right. In the academic artistic community, there can be gatekeeping surrounding what constitutes “formal art training” and self discipline. However, her arts illustrate her dedication to craft prior to college. Practically all of her technical capabilities were a product of self-practice rather than teaching. 

So, when she had the opportunity to curate a painting portfolio for her Advanced Placement art course, she developed her ideological practice alongside her technical capabilities. Paris focused on ideas of escapism. She started with a surreal, metaphysical, colored-pencil drawing of a television. 

“The idea behind it was about consuming so much media that it consumes you. You’re watching the fishes, but the fishes are also watching you. It’s a kind of a paradox,” Paris clarified. 

However, Paris is moving away from the escapist portraiture she loved in high school. She’s currently taking Painting II: Turning Corners. It is an architecture class taught by Professor Randall Exon this semester. Paris admitted that she never painted architecture before, but the class provides one of her favorite media: watercolors.

“I do a lot of watercolor on my own in my free time. Watercolors are always such a comforting material to work with. I don’t know why but it just looked so soft.  It makes me feel good to work with,” she confessed. 

Taking architecture, computer science, and film and media studies at Swarthmore has shifted her artistic vision. Rather than only paintings, Paris has been exploring cartooning by submitting weekly strips to The Phoenix and writing her own comic series.

“My friend Logan’s been helping me with it, and we’ve been doing storyboards, and because I always loved watching anime and reading manga growing up I have always thought about  making my comic,” Paris said.

Given her interest in web comics and as a prospective computer science major, I was curious if she saw any nexus between her two passions. Excitedly, she said, “I want to go into character design because I want to work in game development. I always have felt super inspired by the characters in video games, like how unique they look and what goes into making a recognizable character. I feel Swarthmore isn’t catered to that but career-wise that’s something I want to do and explore more.”

As we wrapped up our interview, I was stunned at the diversity of works Paris showed me. Her creativity seems to know no bounds. She wants to explore all materials, subjects, and has a favorite color scheme. Giggling, she said she does love a pink and green combination, but continued, “I’ve accepted that when I’m working with a new material, it’s gonna be frustrating at first. And when it comes to that, I just have to change my approach, and not force what I’m experimenting to work.”

“Before, I would tell myself I can only do portraiture. But I realize that’s not true. So don’t define yourself to one specific box, because there’s so much that you can do and so many things that you can draw. Don’t be afraid to try something new, Paris said.”

I couldn’t end an article on a better note if I tried, so, if I can offer a piece of advice to our readers: any art is good art, and bad art is only no art. You’ll never know if you never try.

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