From his first job working for a sign company right out of college, doing anything from hand lettering, billboards, and neon design, to a move to New Mexico trying to fit into the area art scene, the most recent move seemed to set his path straight in 2000.
“South Carolina was a good move for me,” said Indiana native Kent Ambler. “Ever since I’ve been here, it’s seemed like my art career has taken off.”
The move has also proven to be a positive feature for Ambler’s artistic inspiration. His eight acre Paris Mountain home in Greenville, SC provides Ambler with the ideal setting to create his art, especially since he predominantly focuses his work on everyday subjects. “It seems like when I plan stuff, it gets stale in my mind pretty quickly. If I don’t care about it, it just doesn’t feel natural and doesn’t come across as genuine. I like drawing my dogs and birds in my front yard and friends portraits and houses. There’s something in my mind that’s satisfied with working from recognizable objects.”
These observations quickly transform into a sketch that is then transferred into a woodcut. “I used to like to sketch more than I do now, but I’m at a point where I mix a little more memory and intuition. I’ve tried to work abstractly, but it never feels finished. Everyday life is a leaping point to explore the aesthetic qualities of a piece.”
These qualities are expressed through Ambler’s woodcuts; the predominant method he uses to create his artwork. “I used to want to do everything- etchings, oil, drawings, photography, silkscreens, but now I pretty much just do woodcuts. Sometimes I’ll paint with acrylic or do small sculptures, but 70% of my time is with woodcuts.” Ambler said the medium came naturally to him, especially in his intro to print class where he first learned about the process; “I could see in my mind how cut marks would print while everyone else was obsessed and were barely scratching theirs. I liked the surprise of it.”
But it’s also that surprise that can have a way of holding Ambler back from creating. “Sometimes there’s lag time because the blocks will lay around until I can convince myself it’s just a drawing and go for it.” Ambler admits that he will not use a block until he can imagine the entire piece which sometimes takes longer, since he uses his newer method of working from memory instead of sketches.
The capability of postponing specific projects can be a positive aspect of being a full-time artist. Ambler says his favorite thing about being an artist is the capability of being “self reliant.” “I get to do what I want that day. I can start whenever I want and work til whenever I want. An interesting thing about being a full-time artist is that most people aren’t used to meeting someone who makes a profession of it. Some people talk down to me like I’m starving to death; sometimes it’s good to be underestimated like that though. I’m kind of a fly-under-the-radar type of person- if you want to think that, go ahead.” Ambler has always made a “profession” of his art.
“No one else in my family is an artist. I don’t know where it came from; it was just something I was born with.” The artist who has his BFA from Ball State University began at 3 years old. Ambler taught himself how to draw a star from a tepee shape that he was unhappy with by drawing lines through it. “In high school, I was the ‘kid who could draw’ which continued on auto pilot when it came to college. I never really gave any other profession a thought and I’m glad I didn’t think it through too much. I have an aptitude for design planning- I love architecture; if I had really been thinking about what to do with a degree, I would have been an architect, but I’m glad to be doing what I’m doing.”
As of right now, Ambler has his artwork on display at Art & Light Gallery and Mary Praytor Gallery in Greenville, Photographics on Kiawah Island, and American Folk Art in Asheville, where he admits “I wouldn’t consider myself a folk artist, but I like folk art, collect it, and I am inspired by it. I went to AFA and explained my background, we instantly clicked and I’ve been there for 6 years now.” Besides galleries, Ambler spends time at various shows throughout the year with the first large event this year being the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. All of Ambler’s upcoming shows, as well as artwork can be found on his website at kentambler.net.
As for any new projects in the works, Ambler has his sights set on an installation space in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He plans to enter a piece in ArtPrize which offers installation space around the town to winning artist’s entries. “There’s like 10 places that I think my installation idea would fit. I plan to paint dogs on shaped masonite panels. I installed 120 running dog paintings in a gallery recently, but I think it would be cool if I could find a space where I could fit 500 dogs!” From small woodcarvings, to large installation pieces, Kent Ambler can make any everyday, recognizable subject a work of art.