Bendigo, Victoria, Australia 1908 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 1987
Equilibrium c.1965 Materials & Technique: paintings, synthetic polymer paint on composition board
Roger Kemp was a mystic, who developed in his art a form of emblematic symbolism which has no close parallels in the art of either his native Victoria or elsewhere in Australia. Early in his career, he rejected figurative naturalism and embraced the idea of Modernism, but this for him dealt less with the rejection of reality and more with a liberation from the tyranny of imitating a literal reality.
Kemp worked in a carefully controlled palette of singing vivid blues, reds and white, but it is also one which glows with an inner luminosity. A tight ambiguous space contains the composition, establishing a relativity between one form and the next and creating an endlessly expanding vision. In Equilibrium, a black armature surrounds the colours, bringing to mind the great rose window of Chartres Cathedral and the paintings of Rouault. Working in synthetic polymer paint on a hardboard surface, the gestural sweep of the marks is proportional to the scale of his own body, giving the painting a human dimension. He created a dense pattern of symbolic forms built around what he termed the square of the masculine and the circle of the feminine, all of them pulsating and drifting within the surface film of the paint. Although the painting is primarily non-figurative, it is possible to interpret some of the imagery as a reference to a cruciform shape dynamically cast and rotating in space.
Kemp’s painting, both in its execution and its perception, is an intuitive, spiritual and meditative experience.
Sasha Grishin 2002
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002