I was very taken with the Roger Kemp exhibition at the Ian Potter Gallery, Melbourne, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/roger-kemp/ in December, 2019, for three main reasons. Firstly, we had the opportunity to see the progress of an artist’s work from his youth to later years. He painted with great immediacy, often with oil on cardboard, flattening forms, which linked him to George Bell’s teaching in the 1930s, with influences of Cezanne creeping in.
He then began to develop his own visual language, and post the 1940s started using enamel paint on masonite.
In his later works in the 1970s, working in an artists’ warehouse space in London, he created large, airy works on paper and canvas of monumental scale. This was the second reason I was so taken with the exhibition. Many of these works were displayed in a large, blackened space, with spotlights shining on them. It felt as though you were walking into a Cathedral with the stained-glass windows emblazoned with glowing light. (Unfortunately my photographs do not do the display justice). It is one of the most powerfully curated exhibitions I have been to for many years.
After returning to Australia from New York in 1980, Kemp suffered a stroke. Through determination, he overcame the effects, and used wide, bold gestures to create future works, which left his work feeling “more airy” and freer. He had another exhibition at Coventry Gallery in Sydney, in September, 1981, just 13 months after his stroke. The Ian Potter Gallery describes this as a “late-career renaissance”. This was the third most inspiring message to take away from the exhibition.