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A Dream Realized Art of Michael Kempson

A Dream Realized Art of Michael Kempson
For this quiet, unassuming soft spoken Australian from New South Wales is a one-man fantasia. Artist, teacher, researcher, curator & print maker, he brings a passion & earnestness to his work which one rarely sees in a world where is so much commercialization & where people are programmed for competition.
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  • Last week he had a prominent presence in the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture & the VM Gallery, Karachi. In the Indus School, he was the curator of ‘Aboriginal dreams’-an exhibition of the paintings & prints of emerging & established aboriginal artists from Papunya Tjupi, a community centre in the remote Northern Territory settlement of Papunya in the Western Desert region of Central Australia. And in the VM Gallery, his prints entitled, ‘Seen/Unseen’ were displayed.

  • As Professor Ian Howard pointed out, Michael Kempson is a printmaker’s printmaker, who has a familiarity with art printing techniques, an expertise with aquatint etching that affords him with master status. Not only does he have this technique at his fingertips, he is able to use these deeply traditional processes in new, adventurous and experimental ways. He is the best of teachers, to beginners in the medium, professional printmakers, and acclaimed artists who seek the editing of one of their images otherwise created in paint or pencil.

  • The images in the ‘Seen/Unseen’ exhibition at VM Gallery were exquisite. To see the world as grain of sand, Narcissus, A world within a world, a near death experience-all produced between 1989 and 1991-bear ample testimony to the fact that technique certainly fascinates Kempson. Again the words of Professor Howard..., “the craft in the handwork & the engineering in the capture and transfer of ink, the coming together of metal, pigmented fluid, paper and cloth to realize an image, again and again, under pressure…” demonstrate that Kempson is no ordinary artist.

  • This reviewer fired the usual questions at Kempson when he met him at the IVS Gallery. How did he come to be a curator for aboriginal art? How long had he been doing this? How old is this art? Is there a government subsidy for these artists? Are they self taught or are they attending art classes? Have any of these creative people ever ended up as architects?

  • Though the question of origin is still as fascinating & unsettled as ever, & though we don’t have any accurate records of the probable sequence and dating of artistic development, it is believed that the Papunyans are among the oldest tribes in the world and have had an uninterrupted culture for 40,000 years. It was, however, an Australian by the name of Geoffrey Barden who in the 1970s registered what he saw as an aesthetic awakening. Intrigued by their articulation in song and dance, and recognizing the potency and power of the paintings, especially the ‘Blackfellas’, the honey ants that are found in the desert, he brought the works of the Papunya tribe to the attention of the world. Chief Kaapa Tjampitjimpa was immensely pleased.

  • Regrettably there is no government subsidy for these aborigines & almost down to the last man they are on welfare. Initially the artists were self-taught. But many aboriginal artists have now adapted their visual culture to communicate in the language of contemporary art. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single Papunyan architect in Australia for though many have the potential there are no subsidies or grants available.

  • The intricate designs in ‘Aboriginal dreams’ consist of potpourri of landforms, signs, symbols, dots & marks applied through numerous techniques including acrylic dot paintings on linen & canvas to etchings & linocuts as they interpret their mythology and religion. Some of the pictures, with their essence in land, water & bush, are quite sophisticated, tidy & neat & geometrically perfect, and produce on the mind a sense of bewildering and helpless wonder.

  • This is especially so because in primitive cultures, the sketches & paintings that are produced are often child- like. In a child’s drawing we find a number of forms which have barely any reference to actual appearances, but which directly symbolize the most significant concepts of the thing represented.

  • The art of Papunya Tjupi is anything but child-like, & if the chap who normally does the rounds of all galleries has not yet popped into the Indus Valley or the VM gallery, he should make it a point to do so. It would be a way of thanking a man who has been involved with the art of the Australian aborigine for over 10 years, a man who has always believed in the untapped reservoir of talent of a backward people, and a decent human being who is fighting for a highly marginalized people to find their place in the sun.

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