Spiral Theory: A local artist’s journey of finding beauty and purpose

Even though Kyle Kemp lost his leg in a horrific forklift accident eleven years ago, a three-inch block of wood randomly lying on a warehouse floor saved his life. While working at 4:00 AM in a distribution center, his forklift whipped around full-speed into an i-beam, pinning his leg. His foot was completely crushed, and due to the extensive damage, had to be amputated. 

Artist Kyle Kemp working in his studio. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design

A 3-inch block of wood saved his life

No one knew how it got there, but that small block of wood kept the machine from tipping further and crushing him to death

Mark Twain once said, “History never repeats itself, but it does often rhyme.” Just like in a spiral theory, something keeps coming back around until it finds its purpose, a block of wood became a theme in Kyle’s life.

Adjusting to life after the accident was tough. Kyle chose not to go on disability after his accident. He was only 25 after all. He spent several years working odd jobs, but his disability made traditional work very difficult. 

Finally, in 2014, he started a job in an antique store restoring wooden antiques and discovered his passion for woodworking.

He fell in love with the detailed restoration and transformation process. He was able to take something locked in a death spiral, and make it something beautiful and useful again.

A spalted wood knife holder with a rescued wood and copper base. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design

Turning “trash” wood into treasure

His favorite medium is what he calls ‘trash’ wood. Trash wood comes in the form of driftwood, beams torn out of old houses and ships, scraps from the lumber yard, broken furniture, fallen trees, forgotten boards in warehouses, and sometimes wood that is left as literal trash on the side of the road.

A bath stand and table by Spiral Theory Art and Design. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design

Kyle takes battered, unwanted wood, and upcycles it into charming, functional art pieces. His favorite is spalted wood or wood that has dark lines and discolorations made by different fungal colonies that once lived inside. 

What makes Kyle’s pieces special is that instead of hiding the lines, spots, and cracks, he highlights them. Cracks that could affect the structural integrity of the piece are bridged using bow-tie inlays. Holes are filled with colorful or shimmering epoxy. Nature-sculpted and discolored wood is highlighted with oils and stains.  

At its core, his process is similar to an ancient Japanese technique called kintsugi, meaning “to join with gold”. It’s the art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with precious metals like gold. A lifestyle that embraces the old and battered in a world that prizes youth and perfection. 

An epoxy repaired detail in a bench by Spiral Theory Art and Design. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design

His company, Spiral Theory Art and Design sells his art exclusively in Easley’s downtown store, Circa Makers & Merchants. Circa sells antiques, and the art of over 60 artists and artisans, many that live in the Upstate. 

The detail in a behive floor lamp by Spiral Theory Art and Design. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design

While he primarily makes smaller pieces for the store like lamps, cutting boards, mirrors, shelves, and other decors, Kyle also does commission work like benches, and pieces that must perform a specific function in a space. He works with both individuals and professional interior designers to incorporate wooden trash-to-treasure pieces in their decor. 

Kyle is married to his wife Andrea, a local nurse. They are expecting their first baby next month. The two met through a mutual friend in 2014, the same year Kyle was discovering his passion for restorative woodworking at the antique store. 

Artist Kyle Kemp and his wife Andrea Kemp among some of his creations. Photo: Natalia Martin

In 2018, they got married and started Spiral Theory Art and Design to showcase and sell Kyle’s creations. Their support of each other’s passion and career is what makes their bond so special. 

You can purchase Spiral Theory’s pieces at Circa Makers and Merchants. You can also reach out through Facebook and Instagram for exclusive art, or to commission a design.

Kyle is always itching to create unique larger pieces that complement the design of homes and businesses.

A wood and epoxy lamp made with rescued wood. Photo: Spiral Theory Art and Design