The James Gleeson oral history collection

James Gleeson interviews Australia's major artists

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Rhythm one c.1974
Print, intaglio, etching, printed in black ink, from one magnesium plate
plate-mark 37.5 h x 50.5 w cm
sheet 59.5 h x 79.5 w cm
Gift of Merle Kemp, the artist's widow 1996
© M. Kemp
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Roger Kemp

1 October 1978

Roger Kemp: Well, yes, to go to nature, you know, to music, to flowers, if you like and landscape if you like, metaphysics and, you know, science. All these things I refer to them as a repertoire.

James Gleeson: Motifs.

Roger Kemp: Repertoires from which they are motivated by motif, if you like, you know.

James Gleeson: Yes.

Roger Kemp: They’re identified by a particular motif which takes them into that particular area. So I move after one. You see, I could be on the landscape for two or three months, depending on how far I’ve gone into other subject matter. That rebounds, you know. Go into that and stay with it for a couple of months and then go completely off it again. Then wait for the cycle to come back. In the meantime I’d be running around taking notice and unconsciously probably half the time and conscious also. But that’s the way it goes.

James Gleeson: How important is music in its effect on your painting? Do you listen to music a lot? Do you respond consciously to it, do you think in terms of rhythms and movements when you listen to music?

Roger Kemp: Yes. I think that I’ve gotten into music, I think. Well, first of all, I had an appreciation of it. Then to understand it, I think I’ve got more out of it by going into the structure of how it is structured, you know. Particularly the fugue sort of thing, which breaks itself up into these various units, you know, and I can put them together and build up, you know. Perfect. That takes me further into it, you know, to the understanding, you know, and I can be in the area of, well, the area that a composer I suppose would move into. The only difference is I’m interpreting through a different medium. But I’m sure it must, because I don’t see any difference. Do you follow me?

James Gleeson: Yes, I do.

Roger Kemp: Both structurally and from point of identification with what is music. While I’m painting I’m thinking nothing else but music. I’m not using little symbols to, you know, this or that.

James Gleeson: No, no. Not on a superficial level.

Roger Kemp: It’s—

James Gleeson: The structure.

Roger Kemp: A note becomes a structure, and a structure becomes a substance or whatever, you know, that kind of thing. Ah yes, I like to do much more but it takes so much energy. Energy, you know. It’s a matter of energy. The ideas are there. They’ve got hundreds of them, but I can’t, you know, write. One day probably I could produce a dozen really good major ideas ready for major works. Come face up to them, you know, and already see them more or less there and it requires so much energy to keep up with it, that I just turn them over and go over to my board and think from zero almost and I go over and scratch on a thing. I’ve got all these ideas and they’re just so difficult that I somehow choose to, you know, take an alternative course which takes me back to having nothing, if you like. Out of that, before long, it gives me a chance to catch up with it, I suppose. I don’t know.


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