Roger Kemp OBE was born in Bendigo, Victoria, in 1908. In the early 1930s the non-figurative painter received some instruction at the national Gallery School and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, however he was mostly self-taught. Kemp was one of Australia’s most prominent transcendental abstractionists, developing a system of symbols and motifs to portray cosmic mysteries. Kemp used symbolism to explore man’s place in a universal order. The artist worked in the abstract art tradition of Wassily Kandsinsky. Kasimir Melevich, Piet Mondrian and Frantisek Kupka. A two-time winner of the Blake Prize for Religious Art, he exhibited regularly from the 1940s, having his first solo exhibition in 1945 at the Velasquez Gallery in Melbourne.
For 20 years, Kemp worked virtually alone to develop his innovative style, finally achieving recognition in the 1950s as leader of a Melbourne avant-garde of Geometric Abstractionists, including Leonard French, George Johnson, Inge King and Leonard Crawford. These innovative artists paid a price for their rising critical acclaim: The Antipodeans, a rival circle of contemporary artists, vilified Kemp’s group in an attempt to curtail abstract art in Australia. In Roger Kemp’s expressions of the relationship between man and the cosmic order he blended a formal balance of the fundamental geometry he utilized. Balancing aesthetics with form he sought to portray his vision of the creativity and beauty of the cosmos. Along with Leonard French, Kemp was fascinated in God and Christianity. Ordinary geometric forms, derived from everyday objects, were used in heavy symbolism of spirituality. Roger Kemp’s symbolic language was executed with speed and directness, capturing the rawness of abstract forces in motion.
In 1972 Kemp returned to Melbourne from London and began etching for the first time, maintaining a printmaking studio with George Baldessin in Collins Street, Melbourne. From 1984 to 1991 three tapestries were woven at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, based on original paintings by Roger Kemps. On display at Robert Blackwood Concert Hall foyer, these tapestries are from the National Gallery of Victoria's Great Hall, on loan during the NGV's relocation and redevelopment of their St Kilda Road premises.
The works were commissioned by the Art Foundation of Victoria, funded by Dame Elisabeth Murdoch, a founding member of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop.
Kemp’s prolific contribution to the development of abstract painting in Australia is widely acknowledged. With many solo and group exhibitions both nationally and internationally, including a major show of etchings toured by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1990, Kemp has been the recipient of many prestigious Awards including, 1968 Blake Prize, 1970 Blake Prize, 1978 Awarded OBE, 1987 Order of Australia (OA). Collections include National Gallery of Australia, Artbank and many state, regional, corporate and private collections throughout Australia, UK and USA.