Keith Hampton draws inspiration from the Hoosier National Forest
Driving deep into Hoosier National Forest, near Taswell in Crawford County, winding up and down rugged backroads where motorists have sometimes lost their way, the visitor comes at last to the home and studio of multifaceted artist Keith Hampton.
This 63-acre property, like so much of Crawford County, is incredibly beautiful, with ravines, bedrock outcroppings, streams with waterfalls, ridges and a variety of wildlife among the attractions.
This 63-acre property, like so much of Crawford County, is incredibly beautiful, with ravines, bedrock outcroppings, streams with waterfalls, ridges and a variety of wildlife among the attractions. In 1989, Hampton built a small log cabin on the property as a getaway; today it is a short walk through the woods from his house. The cabin, along with a few sculptures that Hampton created and installed in the forest, seems happy to be living among the oaks, red maples and beech.
Inside his studio and home, a wide variety of Hampton’s art is on display: paintings, ceramics, sculpture, fiber art – he even designed some of his furniture and the house itself. The breadth of his work is astounding. It seems he has tried his hand at most forms of visual art.
Hampton grew up in the Indianapolis area. As a child, he was fascinated by all the arts. One experience stands out because of the impact it would have on his later life. “When I was 11 or 12,” Hampton said, “my father brought home a set of professional illustrator manuals which taught the art of commercial illustration. When I saw that you could do this work as a job, I practiced continuously, already certain that this would be my career.”
This was during the early 1970s, when Norman Rockwell was still a household name, having risen to prominence through his illustrations (from 1916 to 1963) for The Saturday Evening Post. In 1977, at the age of 18, Hampton got his first job in publishing working in the children’s magazine division at The Saturday Evening Post Company, which had moved to Indianapolis in 1971. By the age of 20, working for ICP (International Computer Programs), he was creating cover illustrations and designs for seven quarterlies. He has had a lifelong career as a designer, owning his own design firm for over 27 years prior to retirement.
Even during this busy time of his life, Hampton said, “I always kept a hand in the fine art world.”
From 1982 onwards, he exhibited his work regularly – in several styles and media – in galleries in Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville and New York state.
“Being an illustrator, one soon learns that survival means the ability to work in a variety of styles; this had an indelible impact on my own art.” – Keith Hampton
Hampton explained his multifaceted approach as rooted in his professional life: “Being an illustrator, one soon learns that survival means the ability to work in a variety of styles; this had an indelible impact on my own art.”
Hampton’s passion for art is matched, if not surpassed, by his love of nature. In 1989, he bought the property in Crawford County as a place to enjoy time off from work. In 2017, he retired and moved there permanently.
He has not regretted the move. “Coming to live in the forest is like coming home,” Hampton said. Some of his recent works reflect his life in the woods. His painting “Spring Creek Symphony” is a realistic rendering of a site on his property. “It is a wonderful place to paint,” Hampton said.
Birds figure in many of Hampton’s paintings, including those observed around his current home. His fascination with birdwatching is evident in his 2009 solo show, Feather and Brush – held in the Indianapolis area – where birds were depicted in sculpture and paintings, ranging in style from realism to cubism to surrealism. His recent bird painting “The Trail” is stylistically an “abscape,” “where landscape and abstract meet in a dreamlike state,” Hampton explained. “This painting expresses my love of winter.”
“The details in the painting – the scarf flung over the chair, the jacket hung haphazardly, one flower out of the vase and book on the table – give the impression that someone has just been there. What have the birds at the window been watching? The viewer can connect the dots – the details – and add to the story.”
His painting “Birds at the Window” can be interpreted, Hampton said, “as a kind of visual storytelling.” He elaborated: “The details in the painting – the scarf flung over the chair, the jacket hung haphazardly, one flower out of the vase and book on the table – give the impression that someone has just been there. What have the birds at the window been watching? The viewer can connect the dots – the details – and add to the story.”
Just as Hampton’s paintings can verge into storytelling, sometimes he finds some shape or form in a painting so alluring, he decides to sculpt it. A painting he began in 2016 depicted a planet surrounded by three biomorphic shapes that could loosely be interpreted as beings. While the painting was still in progress, he decided the shapes were goddesses and envisioned them as life-sized sculptures.
Made with mortar, papier maché and pearlite mixture with some modeling paste thrown in to help them self-seal, these goddess sculptures he called “Goddesses of Pangea” became part of his exhibit
“Automaticae,” held at Gallery 924 in Indianapolis in 2017. Today, they stand at the edge of the forest near his house, perhaps as a mediator between a modern house and the ageless land.
In another sculpture titled “Still and in Motion,” Hampton turned to clay to create long hollow tubes that “move” as they intersect with solid spheres.
Hampton usually puts a lot of planning into his works, but sometimes a “happy accident” occurs.
His ceramic bas relief titled “Crow at the Gate” started “as scraps left over that had been thrown on a little pile and smashed down,” Hampton said. “When I looked at the pile, I saw a gate and started building from there.”
Because Hampton works across such a wide spectrum of media, using dozens of tools, materials and techniques, it is a challenge to categorize his work. He offered his own alternative to the usual classifications of artists: “Before I am a painter, a ceramicist, a sculptor or illustrator, I am a person who pays attention to unexpected shapes, colors, contours and shadows, and who creates art, hoping to pass on the joy that arises when looking at the natural world.” •
Story by Julie Cato
Photo of artwork submitted by Keith Hampton // Photos of Keith and his Crawford County home by Lorraine Hughes