Featured Tapestries

Abstract Sequence

Roger Kemp was one of the earliest artists to work with the Tapestry Workshop with his tapestry Images commissioned in 1978 and acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) in the same year. Kemp's visual language of symbolic forms made for a dynamic translation into tapestry. In 1984 he designed the tapestry Evolving forms, commissioned by the NGV to hang in the Great Hall.

Evolving forms became the first in a suite of three tapestries designed by Kemp for, and conceived as a response to, the Great Hall and its extraordinary faceted glass ceiling designed by Leonard French. Both artists' works harmonise: the broad steel trussesof the vaulted ceiling with its bright glass find an echo in the charcoal bands that delineate the abstract forms and jewel-like colours of ruby-red, turquoise, lilac and amethyst-pink in Kemp's tapestries.

The three tapestries demanded varying technical approaches. The first tapestry, Evolving forms, was soft in colour and approach. Weaver Cheryl Thornton notes, 'It was only when it was installed in the Great Hall that we discovered the high viewing distance made the tapestry read as a painting. For the next tapestry in the suite, Piano movement, we decided to accentuate the work's medium as a textile. We did this by exaggerating the stepping - the movement up and across the warp threads... which created the effect of a rougher, more jagged surface, giving the work more of a textile feel.'

The third tapestry, Organic form, was slightly more subdued and provided a visual balance to the contrast of the preceding two works. Kemp was actively involved in the translation of the first two works, but died in 1987 before Organic form was complete.

The tapestries which followed, Abstract sequence, Unity in space and Abstract structure, continued the composition and themes of the previous works. By this stage the weavers not only had extensive knowledge and technical expertise to undertake the translation but also a great awareness of Kemp's artistic sensibility. Thornton noted that when you worked closely with Kemp's markmaking, you can see that 'These marks resolved the whole painting. Abstract sequenceand Unity in space were a reminder of what a great artist Kemp had been: it was humbling to work with an artist of his calibre.'

Roger Kemp (1908-1987) was a major contributor to the development of abstract painting in Australia in the mid-to-late 20th-century. In the 1950s he associated with a coterie of Melbourne abstractionists including George Johnson, Inge King and Leonard French. Kemp was the winner of the Blake Prize in 1968 and 1970, after which he relocated to London. In 1978 he was awarded an Order of the British Empire, and in 1987 received an Order of Australia. Kemp's work is held in all major museum collections in Australia including the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Queensland Art Gallery.