Menzies Art Brands



Roger Kemps Quest for Enlightenment1, a spiritual journey that engaged the artist over the length of his career, represents an important component of the Melbourne painting scene of the 50s and 60s. In many ways, Kemps work runs parallel to those of his friends and contemporaries, Fred Williams and John Brack. While Williamss engagement with Landscape transformed our perception of the Australian countryside, and Brack worked his highly personal and subjective path, Kemp brought a similar intensity and depth to his lifelong engagement with the Spiritual.

In the process Kemp produced what should now be seen as the finest group of Abstract paintings of their day. Soaring planes, dynamic rhythms, magnificent forms, often executed on a large scale, his work recalls religious stained glass, but also is characterised by a seriousness and consequential power that proposes comparison with the great New York school abstractionists such as Mark Rothko (1903-1970). He achieves this employing the simplest means: his paintings consist of forms and bands of flat colours laid over tonally related planes, contrasted with short sharp forms so that a layering in low relief emerges. The best of his paintings combine a sense of monumental progress with lightly shimmering vibrancy, a highly successful duality. The forms are neither organic nor mechanical: his language is unique. Kemp had arrived at this style of painting through a slow process of evolution form his early landscapes, where the spatial articulation of trees, buildings and figures slowly over time shed vestiges of earthbound subject matter, leaving pure form, but form loaded with spiritual weight. The process of reduction was determined by Kemps aim that that the paintings lose nothing of their emotional or spiritual value.

Decoration belongs to the period where the last traces of recognisable forms are eliminated and the paintings arrive at their purest expression of spirit. This development coincided with the increased public interest in his work. Through the 1960s until his death in 1987, his work gained a strong following culminating in a group of four large exhibitions held at the National Gallery of Victoria, The University of Melbourne Gallery, the Monash University Art Gallery, and Realities Gallery, in Toorak in 1978 to celebrate his seventieth birthday.

1. The title of Christopher Heathcotes book, A Quest for Enlightenment the Art of Roger Kemp, Macmillan, Melbourne, 2007

Timothy Abdallah, BA



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