Arthur Charles Kemp
British Artist Arthur Charles Kemp was a man of many talents. He taught music and art; played the cello in a symphony orchestra; crafted silver pieces; made paintings, drawings, wall mosaics, and even wove rugs. His adopted son, Jeremy, has early memories of a home filled with music, where Kemp played the cello, and his wife, Irene, the violin and viola. As the boy grew older, he came to know his father, the artist. The two would head off into the wilds of Wales or the Cornish seacoast, where Kemp drew and painted landscapes, while his son went fishing. Music was a vital part of Kemp‘s life, but art was his true passion.
One of three children born to a Quaker family from near Birmingham, England, Kemp wanted to be an artist, but his father considered this a profession with no future and encouraged his son to pursue a musical career. While playing cello for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Kemp met his future wife, also from a Quaker background. She was already an established musician and helped her new husband fulfill his dream of becoming a painter, supporting his studies at the Birmingham School of Art. Kemp completed a three year course in two years and qualified as an art teacher, finding a position at the Rugby College of Technology and Art (now Coventry University).
The Quaker artist often took on sacred themes. Encouraged by his father-in-law, who was a skilled silversmith, Kemp learned to work with metal and completed church commissions for chalices and other liturgical vessels. According to his son, Kemp was also involved in the post-war reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed in a Nazi bombing raid in 1940, which he had witnessed as a World War II fire watcher. Kemp submitted drawings for a mosaic of the Madonna and Child, which was never realized. During the last decade of his life, the artist suffered two debilitating strokes and lost the use of his left hand, but he continued to make art. His last major painting, which he called his “self-portrait," was a poignant image of a thorn-crowned Christ.
The Sacred Art Pilgrim Collection has a complete cycle of small format pencil drawings by Kemp of the Stations of the Cross. They appear to be rough sketches for a church project, since some of the pictures have empty panels below for lettering. The drawings are elegant, emotionally cool studies of the Passion of Christ. Stylized figures without facial features are grouped together in harmoniously balanced compositions, resembling a decorative frieze for a classical facade.
Kemp created a gouache collage of a unusual, contemporary Nativity scene, also in my collection, which seems to have been a sketch for an uncompleted wall mural. On the right of the painting, athletes from a track or swim team brave the winter chill, wearing only red shorts, as they run to see a haloed Madonna in modern dress. A lone cellist on the left serenades the Virgin Mother and Child, perhaps, a portrait of the artist.
Biographical information from Liss Fine Art