Roger Kemp

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Francis Roderick Kemp OBE AO (Eaglehawk, 3 July 1908 - Melbourne 14 September 1987), known as Roger, was one of Australia's foremost practitioners of transcendental abstraction. Kemp developed a system of symbols and motifs which were deployed to develop a method of manifesting creativity at a fundamental level, striving in particular to explain humanities place in a universal order.


Francis Roderick Kemp was born on 3 July 1908, in California Gully, Eaglehawk. His father, Frank Kemp, worked at a gold mine, and his mother, Rebecca Kemp, raised the family. Both the Kemp's and Harvey's were devout Methodists and proud Cornish people. In 1913 the family moved to Melbourne after a mining accident. In late February 1920 Roger's father was struck by a tram and was pronounced dead on arrival. Roger was 12 years old.[1]


At twenty-one Kemp took his first formal steps to becoming an artist by taking classes in drawing at the National Gallery Art School stationed next to the National Gallery of Victoria. In 1932 Kemp enrolled into the Working Men's College, briefly studying commercial art there before returning to the National Gallery Art School for classes in painting from 1933 to 1935.

Although he sold no works, Kemp's first solo exhibition at the Velasquez Gallery in Melbourne in June 1945 drew favourable reviews. He went on to win the McCaughey Prize in 1961, the Georges Invitation art prize and the Transfield Art Prize in 1965 and the Blake Prize in 1968 and 1970.[2]

Kemp was at the forefront of abstract expressionism in Australia which saw resistance from the Antipodean movement, an art collective who asserted the importance of Australian figurative art over abstraction expression.

Private life[edit]

In 1943, he married Edna Merle McCrohan, an art teacher; the couple had four daughters, including Jenny, a playwright. He died in Sandringham in 1987.[2][1]

Critical Acclaim[edit]

“To many people Roger Kemp appears as a hermit, painting out his spiritual drama away from the world, removing himself both as man and painter. Nothing could be more misleading. No hermit ever affirmed the world with such passionate intensity as Kemp. His paintings grow out of his responses to the living world of experience around him and he paints, sometimes desperately in his isolation, to share and communicate his joyous apprehension of the world” - Patrick McCaughey

"His glimpses of the ineffable are translated to us in terms of dancing, for his painting are a never extravagant. It has the formal quality of a sarabande. Every moment, every gesture, every brushstroke becomes part of a ritual. There is exuberance, but it is controlled by a aesthetic etiquette as precise as the protocol of the Habsburg court" - James Gleeson


Roger Kemp was perhaps the most celebrated Australian abstractionist in his lifetime, however his place in Australian art has remain comparatively unexplored posthumously. In recent year Dame Elisabeth Murdoch commissioned several tapestries of some of Kemp's most prominent pieces. They hang in the great hall of the National Gallery of Victoria under the stain-glassed ceiling created by Kemp's contemporary Leonard French.


  1. ^ a b Christopher Heathcote, The Quest for Enlightenment: The Art of Roger Kemp, 2007
  2. ^ a b Heathcote, Christopher. "Kemp, Francis Roderick (Roger) (1908–1987)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Retrieved 5 January 2019.

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