Abstract Structure, c.1972 synthetic polymer paint on composition board 183.0 x 137.0cm (72 1/16 x 53 15/16in).
PROVENANCE The estate of the artist, Melbourne
RELATED WORK Abstract Structure, 2007, wool and cotton, 497.0 x 366.0cm, collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Abstract Sequence 1972-73, synthetic polymer paint on canvas 225.0 x 265.0cm Relativity (diptych) 197274, synthetic polymer paint on composition board 58.0 x 51.0cm (each panel)
In the early 1980s the newly appointed director of the National Gallery of Victoria, Patrick McCaughey selected works from Roger Kemp's studio as the basis of three tapestries commissioned to hang in The Great Hall. The tapestries were not simply a compliment to Leonard French's famous stained glass ceiling, they were to sonorously and rhythmically balance the space and enhance the meditative and transcendental qualities imbued in that building. Designed somewhat like the nave of a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, the Hall had taken on a spiritual dimension and yet its vast and lofty bluestone surfaces and steel structure required works which would not only soften the space but more importantly draw the eye to French's crowning ceiling. What was required of Kemp's art was a robust sensibility and power, which could not be humbled by the scale or the domineering elements of the space. McCaughey's original commission for three works was augmented in concert with the rebuilding of the Gallery in 2003 to include three further tapestries based on works from the early 1970s. This work, Abstract Structure c. 1972 was the basis for the tapestry, Abstract Structure 2007, which was completed by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in that year and has been displayed in the Great Hall on the western wall.
The decade of the 1970s when this work was painted was a critical period for Roger Kemp. In 1973 his work was selected for the inaugural Sydney Biennale and in 1977 he was awarded an Order of the British Empire for his services to Australian art. Prior to his appointment at the National Gallery of Victoria, McCaughey had championed his work alongside other abstractionists of the day and in 1978 he coordinated the artist's first major survey show, Roger Kemp: Cycles and Directions 1935 1975, which was shown across five Victorian galleries and toured to other state and regional galleries. The 101 works shown in this expansive exhibition confirmed that Kemp was a profoundly cerebral artist whose mind was always engrossed in deep ideas about existence, science, religion, music, spirituality, metaphysics and philosophy, all of which he would regularly articulate amongst his ever growing band of fellow artists, curators and critics. Painting and drawing for Kemp was the greatest way he knew to capture all of this intelligence and mark it down for the world to apprehend and be enlightened. As McCaughey commented, 'For Roger each painting or drawing, no matter how minor, was the answer. It didn't illustrate the answer, it was not a diagram or plan or explanation, it was the answer.' 1
1 Interview with Patrick McCaughey 1991, quoted in Christopher Heathcote, The Art of Roger Kemp, Macmillan, Melbourne, 2007, p. 109