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Artist Amber D. Kempthorn shares 'Ordinary Magic,' a visual and musical celebration of life

 A scene from "Ordinary Magic: A Sunday in the Cuyahoga Valley." [Amber D. Kempthorn]
A scene from "Ordinary Magic: A Sunday in the Cuyahoga Valley." [Amber D. Kempthorn]

Hiram artist Amber D. Kempthorn captures the fleeting moments we can’t hold onto in her drawings. From sunsets to coffee cups, she incorporates what’s familiar.

“When I'm drawing, I'm thinking a lot about, frankly, stopping time,” Kempthorn said. “It's a way to create a document, you know, it's evidence making.”

For a long time, she wanted to try animating her work but didn’t know how. Then she heard about an opportunity for a grant in Akron.

“It wasn't until the Knight Arts Challenge that I finally said… ‘This might be the chance to do this,’” she said.

Kempthorn pitched creating an animation to British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes,” performed live by the Akron Symphony Orchestra. After winning $54,000 in grant support through the Knight Arts Challenge in 2019, she raised matching funds and collaborated both with the orchestra and a production studio that could help animate her drawings.

“It wasn't just about making a purely visual thing to music,” she said. “I wanted this bigger experience.”

Her modern translation of the 80-year-old piece of music is meant to make it more accessible to more people, she said.

Audiences in Northeast Ohio will appreciate many local influences in Kempthorn’s animation, “Ordinary Magic: A Sunday Afternoon in the Cuyahoga Valley.” In one section, viewers see the Goodyear Blimp in the sky and a Cavs basketball bounces by, all while a motorcycle is cleaned in a whimsical way.

The familiar objects in her art disrupt “how we might normally encounter those objects in a space” and provide “a little wink to the viewer,” she said. “Like you and I both know that this is all made up.”

One of Amber D. Kempthorn's drawings for "Ordinary Magic: A Sunday in the Cuyahoga Valley." [Amber D. Kempthorn]

Landscape is also an important part of her art, recognizing the beauty in nature and its contemplative effect.

“Hopefully, when you walk up to a drawing or even when you see the animation, that you can see yourself in it,” Kempthorn said.

In order to add motion to her work, she created hundreds of drawings for the animation, from the moon rising to how a compass rotates in space. To help her depict the slight changes that occur when objects are moving, she filmed real-life action with the assistance of a neighbor.

“She would on Monday afternoon get a text from me that would say something like, ‘Can you come to the yard and hold a lawn chair and move it around in space? And I'm going to video you doing that,’” Kempthorn said.

 A still frame from Amber D. Kempthorn's "Ordinary Magic: A Sunday in the Cuyahoga Valley." [Amber D. Kempthorn]

The animation shifts with the musical changes. For instance, there’s quiet wonder in the moonlight and disruption in a storm. The animation begins with the transition from darkness to light before sunrise.

“I really wanted to capture that feeling of when you're someone who works and you start at like five in the morning,” she said. “There's this handoff that happens, right? Where, you know, you're standing there, maybe drinking your coffee and you're looking out the window… That transition happens from the interior light to the exterior light, you know, it's just such a beautiful moment in the day.”

The last couple of months have been full of exciting moments for Kempthorn, who also teaches drawing at the Cleveland Institute of Art. She just received a Cleveland Arts Prize, and the Akron Symphony Orchestra performed with her animation in October. Kempthorn is now looking to further the reach of "Ordinary Magic."

“I would very much love for other orchestras to do it,” she said. “To get more people to fall in love with Benjamin Britten, to get more people to fall in love with classical music, to feel like this is all a thing that they can, you know, participate in and participate with.”

A selection of her drawings as well as projection of the animation with orchestration are on view as part of an exhibition, “With(drawing),” at the Bonfoey Gallery in Cleveland through Nov. 23.

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