Kemp, Arthur

(1906 – 1968)

Porth Madog harbour, circa 1950

£1,950.00

Watercolour and pencil on paper, 15 x 22 1/2 in. (38 x 57 cm.)

1 in stock

DESCRIPTION

Provenance:
The Artist’s Estate; Private collection

Provenance: Jeremy Kemp, studio ref no. AK25

This shows Porth
Madog harbour, using
some artistic license, from where finished slates were shipped out . The
slate sheds can be
seen on the quayside and the quay itself was built with huge slabs of
slate. The old narrow guage railway brought the slate down from Blaenau
Ffestiniog across the cobb and into the porth.  Kemp enjoyed the
contrasting patterns of  the old slate sheds against
the harbour wall.  This was a study for a large mural that Kemp  did to
depict the decline of the slate industry in North Wales.   


We are grateful to Jeremy Kemp for assistance.

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THE ARTIST

Kemp, Arthur

1906 – 1968

The following biography was written by Jeremy Kemp, the artist’s adoptive son:

The earliest recollections I have of my Father was more to do with his
music than any of his other artistic accomplishments. This is more than
likely to be because music fills the home with its audible
presence,especially when my Dad played and taught the ‘celo along with
my Mother who played and taught the violin and viola.They were also one
half of the KERA Quartet,a widely known string quartet and also played
with some of the leading orchestras of the day. Dad had played with the
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra(CBSO) and Mother,under her maiden
name of Irene Crowther,played with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the
London Symphony Orchestra.Mother was incidentally,of her time, the
youngest to gain her LRAM. So music had a large part to play in my
childhood memories as our homes in both the midlands and north Wales
were in part ,practice studios, schools, rehearsal rooms and a popular
meeting place for many of their musical friends,many of them being the
composers,conductors and principle players of the period.

It was through music that my parents (by adoption) met back in the mid
twenties.Mother at that time was playing for the CBSO as well as
invigilating for the Royal Acadamy of Music.My Dad,who had studied the
‘celo at the Midland Institute,Birmingham,applied for a post with the
CBSO and so they met. Their common ground,apart from their love of
music,was that they were both from well established Quaker (Religious
Society of Friends) families though from different sides of the social
divides of the period. Dad,one of three children,was from a relatively
humble background living in Kings Heath,Birmingham and Mother was from
Kings Norton ,Worcestershire and the only daughter of modestly well to
do small factory and shop owner.
My Dad had always had a leaning towards painting and the ‘Arts and
Crafts’movement in general and had wished to follow a career as an
artist but this had been frowned upon by his father as not being a
suitable means by which to earn a living and was therefore encouraged
to pursue a career as a musician as there was a measurable earning
potential attached with that.So hence the Midland Institute and the
‘celo culminating at the CBSO and my Mother.

My Mother was by then a well established violinist as well as being of
‘independent means’.She understood Arthur’s frustration at not being
able to follow his passion in art and was able to support and encourage
him to enter the Birmingham School of Art following their marriage in
1934. Their wedding was in the accepted form of a Quaker Marriage,known
as a Solemnization of Marriage and the ‘Book of Solemnization’ that
Arthur made for the occasion is a beautiful example of some of his
artistic talents in painting,illuminated writing and book making. I
have had pleasure in showing this book at several Friends Meetings over
the years and in the opinion of many Friends this book is a wonderful
example of the Quaker way as well as being a work of art.

Arthur managed to complete a three year course at the School of Art in
only two years while at the same time completing his Diploma of
Education to become a teacher. In 1936 he won the Lucas Award for
excellence in Arts and Crafts and having also gained his teaching
qualifications was able to become a teacher of art and therefore make a
living within the world of art. Teaching,especially to young people,
was something that Dad always put great effort and enjoyment into and
even when I was a young child some twenty years later it was
commonplace for ex pupils to come to tell him how they were getting on.
Through marriage to Irene or Rene as she preferred to be known
as,Arthur came under the influence of his father in law,George
Crowther,an engineer with considerable skills in draughtsmanship and
metalsmithing. Over and above their common relationship of father/son
in law they became very close friends and Arthur gained an insight into
the skills that would have otherwise have been impossible to gain
elsewhere.Georges ability in designing and working in metal was
rewarded in him seeing Arthur’s advancing skills in silversmithing,many
of his pieces winning awards and being commissioned by Churches (one or
two Royal ones I believe). One of the most lasting testimonials to this
close friendship is the painting that Dad did shortly after the death
of my Grandad in 1954 which I have since titled ‘George and I’. In this
painting Dad has shown the inter-relationship of their combined
influences on each other. Grandad’s professional abilities as an
engineer and draughtsman ‘the callipers and micrometer-leading him to
make even the requirements of his hobbies and pastimes such as the
shuttlecock and spinning wheel,he was a keen weaver and spinner.The
fork or spade handle,he was a keen gardner.A chess piece that he would
have turned himself and his fishermans fly-case that held his own tied
flies. Interspersed with these things of Grandads were Dads interests
as well,a silver chalice, a ‘celo,a set-square to denote the art of
draughtsmanship in both paintings and silversmithing. A musical
instruments cleff. Central to all this is Grandad himself having earned
his ‘wings’ and last but not least Grandads beloved pipe. What an
epitaph from one man to another.

Once qualified to teach arts and crafts Dad had no difficulty in being
suitably employed as his CV and some testimonials bear out. During this
short time before the war Dad was able to consolidate his reputation as
a painter,silversmith,musician and teacher all of which he engaged in
with great proffiency and enthusiasm .The war brought changes to him as
it did to everyone. Both Dad and Mother were in protected occupations
but Dad did his share of fire spotting from the higher vantage points
around Birmingham and Coventry. Witnessed the destruction and death all
around him, saw the bombing of Coventry Cathederal,saw the blitz at its
worst when streets of ordinary terraced houses were raised to the
ground and their families either killed or homeless. As a Quaker and
therefore a pacifiest this only served to solidify his views on the
futility of armed aggression and I can only assume that this thought
was the foundation of some very surreal murals and paintings produced
in the late forties and very early fifties.
Neither Arthur or Rene were removed from their own period of personal
tragedy during the war.In 1940 Rene was expecting their child. She was
engaged to give a recital at Stratford upon Avon and decided to cycle
there to conserve her petrol coupons. So off she set with her rather
fine example of a Maggini violin strapped to her bicycle,however the
long journey there and back to Kings Norton caused her to miscarry and
also prevented her in ever being able to bear children. Arthur had very
much wanted children and though Rene was maybe not so keen in 1941 they
adopted a little baby boy they named Michael. At this time they also
moved from my Grandfathers house in Kings Norton to a new home in
Rugby,Warwickshire . As he had done before Arthur did much of his
silversmithing at home and one of the products used in working with
silver is a clear acid and in 1943 young Michael,then a two year old
toddler went into Arthur’s studio and drank some of this acid. It took
him a long to die in Rene’s arms as no doctor could be summoned.
Michael had a teddy called Scottie and after Michaels death Arthur did
a painting of Scottie which hung in their bedroom for the rest of their
lives,the teddy being wrapped up and put away in a blanket drawer until
found by me in 1977 after the death of Rene.

In July 1945,by some private system that I still know nothing about I
came into the Kemp household with the already given forenames of Jeremy
Raynham.I knew nothing of my adoption until I applied for a passport
when I was about 13 years old.I knew nothing of my real mother till my
wife and I came to adopt a very young mentally handicapped boy from
Maesteg in Glamorgan in 1982 and Barnadoes ,the adoption agency we
used,after some very clever detective work came up with a name of
Elizabeth Raynham but that is another story.

My first recollection of watching my Dad paint was I think somewhere
around Newquay in maybe 1950 or so. I can remember Dad walking along a
very dangerous wooden pier in a creek near to the sea. Dad would go
back to the same place for two or three days studying the changing
light and shadows while Mother and I would amuse ourselves by the car.
We had an old steel ammunition box that had a Primus stove in it and a
very large wicker picnic basket that strapped to the car boot lid and
as long as Dad had plenty of tea and sandwiches everyone was happy!
Holidays were special in those days,both parents being teachers we
enjoyed the long holidays and North Wales in those days was such a
peaceful and picturesque place to be. We were of course so fortunate in
that Grandfather had his second home near to Llanystumdwy on his
beloved river the Dwyfach where he had quite a useful stretch and there
taught me the art of fly fishing. I must have made a comical sight with
waders up to my chin and wielding a 14 foot Greenheart fly rod-aged
about eight !! It was at that age I was sent away to boarding school
and so it was only in the holidays that I was aware of Dad getting out
and about painting but in those days it was only in Wales that Dad did
paint anyway. Back in Rugby Dad was the head of the Art School and with
all what that entailed as well as his silver work and music he had
little time to apply himself to painting. He used to say that to paint
a worthwhile painting one needed to spend time getting into the subject
and he was a little scornful of the ‘artist’ that performed the ‘half
hour image’.” Might as well take a photograph,at least that would be
more accurate”-he would often say! As a young boy at prep school there
was the odd time when my parents might have some musical engagement
that took them away and so I would travel to wherever Grandad was at
that time fishing,wonderful journeys on the overnight sleeper to
Inverness from London to join him on the Spey or the London to Dublin
packet via Hollyhead,docking at Dun Laoghaire and then travelling on to
Limerick to join him on the Shannon. Not only would my school trunk
have a large brown tie-on label with my name and final destination on
it but so would I !!

Mostly though holidays were spent at Llanystumdwy and after Grandad’s
passing I took up his rods and would accompany Dad wherever he went
painting. The nice thing about Wales is that you are never far away
from the fish. Mother seemed to take more of a back seat so it was Dad
and I then,him with his paints and me with my rods.Off we would go
together to magical places. To name but a few ‘ Nantle and Talysarn,Dad
loved the raw drama of the old slate workings as well as the better
known ones of Dinorwig and Blaenau Ffestiniog .In those far of days
health and safety in the workplace was not the issue that it is today
so the quarry managers and foremen were quite happy to let Dad wander
about painting and I was free to play around as I pleased and for an
example I remember workmen up at the old Dorethea quarry taking me down
the very precarious chain ladders to the lower blast chambers and
feeling the ground heave and shake as the explosives ripped the slate
away from the huge buttresses of granite. There used to be a little
‘puffa'(a miniature railway steam engine) called Wendy up there and Dad
and I would open up the steam valve and trundle down the track in the
upper workings just to end the day with a bit of fun. We would go up
the Cwm Ystradllyn where Dad would leave me at the lake while he would
trudge up the valley to paint the Moel Hebog. When the fish had
finished taking the fly I would pack up and go to join Dad and we would
look at what he had achieved and if he didn’t like the result we would
go back another day when the light may be different. In the same area,
on the upper reaches of the Dwyfor in Cwm Pennant was another favourite
place.There is a little chapel at Llanfirangle at the lower end of the
valley where a gravestone has written on it,in welsh,’God made the
world in six days and on the seventh he gave us Cwm Pennant. Further up
the valley is a small stand of old pine trees on the slope leading up
to Garenddgoch and a ruined house where Dad often found a subject to
paint. Coming down from there or Cwm Ystradllyn next door we would
travel over the top gated road to Prenteg, stopping off on the way to
have tea with Robin Williams,Hendre Hywell and watch him work his sheep
dogs. Another often combined outing would see me left at the old sluice
gates across the estuary at Porthmadog to fish while Dad went off to
paint further up through the Aberglaslyn and on to Nantgwynant,where
views of Cnicht and the Moelwyns never failed to give him a subject to
paint. Another painting of his evokes happy memories of days spent down
at Borth y Guest and Morfa Bychan and the view across the Treath to
Portmerrion,Talsarnau and on a good day Harlech. It was there on the
Black Rock sands at Morfa Bychan that at the age of 12 or 13 Dad would
let me drive his car, sometimes at quite shocking speeds,up and down
the 5 miles of almost deserted beach while Dad worked away at one or
two paintings sat comfortably in the sand dunes enjoying the good
natural light. It was here that I first became aware of a change of
style in Dads paintings.Although,to my untrained eye, he had always
done some ‘avant guard’ works especially in some of his murals, here at
Borth y Guest he started to use a new technique for the first time.
‘Regatta day at Borth y Guest’ had originally been two paintings in his
more conventional form but he had started to fiddle around with them
and ended up with one long narrow painting but where all naturally
curved lines were portrayed as straight lines therefore giving the
depicted seen a triangular effect. Shortly after this foray into a new
style he took things a stage further and took a previously finished
work-Avenue of Trees,Chwilog- and redid it in this new approach and had
great delight in hanging both paintings side by side. These days were
rather exciting as sometimes it was hard to tell what the subject was
till the painting was finished.

There were so many other places visited, all around the Llyn peninsular
and down to Dyffryn Ardudwy and across to Dolgellau where Dad would
paint around the Rhinogs and Y Lletyr and I would fish the Lyn Hywell
or climb the old roman steps at the head of Cwm Bychan. Further down
the coast we would go to Llwyngwrill and Tywyn, where Dad sent me to
the Outward Bound school for a summer camp before I joined the much
renowned H.M.S.Conway at Plass Newydd up on the Menai Straits. Carrying
on down the coast we would get to Borth and back up the Dyfi valley to
Machynlleth where a good view of Cadair Idris was to be had from Llyn
Can. Across the main road I would amuse myself by hiking up the Mynydd
Ceiswyn to the top of Waun-oer and down the Mynydd Dolgoed while Dad
found a good point to paint from. It was something of mixture of
chance, amusement and a touch of skill that we always managed to meet
up at the right time and place for the return journey to Llanystumdwy
and a welcome supper and often a quick trout or two on the evening fly.
Often we would get home to find friends come to visit,more often than
not musical ones from London or Birmingham but often local friends as
well come to discuss ,enjoy or influence ‘Matters Art’ with Dad. I
remember well a Mr.Pollicoff, a grand gentleman from near Pwllheli,a
larger than life character who enthused vociferously over Dads works
and was instrumental in getting him to agree to put on exhibitions in
Pwllheli. Another ardent admirer was a lovely old gentleman,Mr Kirkhope
who had something to do with explosives and he too managed to persuade
Dad to put on a one man show in Tremadog I believe. I remember that Dad
who was in no way interested in being commercial with his paintings put
sold signs on them before the shows even opened! One or two local
artists also used to visit now and then and I can remember lively
discussions on style,perspective,colour and technique. One painter who
comes to mind was younger man than Dad who I thought came from
Pentrefellin and used to discuss the practicalities of block colour
washes.50 years later when I see the works of Kyffin Williams and
compare the dates of their respective works I cant help but wonder if
there is anyone who now could throw more light on that one?
It was in this period of Dads life that he had the first of his
catastrophic heart attacks and strokes. The summer of 1957 saw him have
the first major one and I remember only too well watching him struggle
back to some sort of normal health. He had a private room with a
wonderful view over the old harbour and across to ‘ballast island’ at
Porthmadog’s Memorial Cottage Hospital where Aunty Blodwin was matron
and commanded a gaggle of nurses,and the doctor too, to care for Dads
every need. What wonderful days when Matrons ruled by sheer presence .
Dad slowly got back to better health with a remarkable amount of
fortitude and slow learning of how to get some use back into his
paralysed limbs, he would sit for days trying to draw the various
scenes before him from his bay window in what he humorously called his
room at ‘Blods Isbitty’. I can remember going one day to Caernarfon
with Mother to buy the requirements needed to do some tapestry
,something Dad had never done before. He ,with just a little help from
Mother and I, struggled for days to do the needle work necessary to
create a cushion cover that he designed himself. That cushion is on my
chair as I write this now,when Dad made something it certainly was made
to last! I remember one particular day when Mother and I were getting
ready to go to see Dad there was a terrible storm and the day went as
dark as night and the river was a raging torrent having flooded across
our fields to the river side of the cottage. Mrs.Roberts, Tyddyn Du,the
farm above us was already flooded out when a tractor arrived from
Gwynfryn Plas to see if those up river were in need of help and kindly
took the three of us, sat precariously in the tractors back box, up to
Plas Talhynbont. Mrs.Roberts,then in her 80’s had little English but
one of her few phrases was- ‘well well I never did- isn’t it’, and that
in the lovely soft Llyn welsh accent. Dad thought this was immensely
funny and it kept him chuckling for days as visitors came to see him at
‘Blods Isbity’. Dad finally left hospital after more than two months
but by then I had returned back to Mill Hill School in London and was
not home again to Rugby until the Christmas holidays when I found Dad
to be much recovered and happily sketching away. It was about this time
that he undertook what was probably one of his longest and most
technically demanding commissions, he did a few but rarely for a
significant sum. He had been asked to do something significant for
Rugby College of Techinology,of which his School of Art was now a part.
He elected to do a large mosaic measuring some 6ft. by 4ft. This
required a very large and heavy polished concrete plinth built into an
even larger wooden lifting frame all to lifted through the roof of his
garage,that being the only suitable place to do the job. The mosaic
pieces,100’s of them he went to Italy to select and order them and when
they duly arrived Dad would have to then cut them into the required
shapes. A slow and exacting procedure to cut and then fix them onto the
base plinth that took up more or less the rest of that year. Dad could
no longer play the ‘celo as his fingering had gone, and he did little
silver work anyway, so it was that this large mosaic kept him suitably
occupied . Again around this time Dad was asked to consider submitting
something for the new Coventry Cathedral that was under construction, I
know he had some ideas about another mosaic and did draught up one or
two designs which were discussed along with John Piper,Graham
Sutherland and Basil Spence. I remember his submission of the Madonna
and Child was well received but may be it just as well nothing came of
it as in the spring of 1960 he had his second and even more
debilitating stroke and so back up to ‘Blods Isbity’ in Porthmadog he
went. This time the paralysis took away all the use of the left hand
side of his body and his speech as well. He really was very poorly this
time but once again Aunty Blod pulled out all the stops for him and
very slowly he started to regain some of his health. Once again he
undertook a mammoth piece of occupational therapy. This time a 5ft.by
3ft. ‘ready-cut’ rug,but with the difference he made and cut his own
wool,he didn’t like to make things too easy for himself! That rug is
also still in use some 48 years later, albeit a little frayed around
the edges now.
By the summer holidays I had left Mill Hill and was due to start on the
H.M.S.Conway spring term 1961 so there had been various activities
arranged for me including a fortnights O.T.C. camp at Thetford followed
by another camp at the Outward Bound School, Aberdovey. I think my
parents thought I needed some more ‘toughening up’ before joining the
Conway, and in hind sight maybe they weren’t so wrong. The Conway in
those days struck me as a place that if you could
swim,row,sail,climb,box,hit a six or score at least two tries per match
you would make a reasonably good ships officer with well taught
navigation and seamanship coming a very close second. After all our
ships motto was-‘Quit ye like men, be strong’. Not a bad maxim in life
to follow I think.

Back to Dad again and by the end of the summer he was back home in
Llanystumdwy again and able to have the odd day out with his paints.
Now I was on hand to help him set up his board and easel and help him
with some of the other chores so that it was possible for him to
paint.We got on well together. I loved my Dad and even in those early
formative years as a young teenager I realized that he was producing
something that in many years to come people would still be able to
enjoy. The rest of 1960 seemed to come to a close rather slowly, Dads
health continued to improve and I was getting more and more excited
about joining the Conway. From my very earliest memories I had always
wanted to go to sea, why I knew not as I thought I had no nautical
connection whatsoever. Of course my parents knew differently but never
enlightened me. 1961 saw more improvement in Dad and for the first time
ever the three of us went away for a holiday to the Orkney Islands. I
had hired a rowing boat and Dad and I would go of together where he
would be quite content to sit and sketch while I did a spot of fishing.
Other days we would go off around the headlands and find a suitable
subject to paint. I remember one day the wind was so strong that I had
to hold the paper down on his board for him to paint or the lot would
have been blown away to sea. He still had no use of his left arm and
could not walk very well.His speech was affected as well so things were
not at all easy for him but we all seemed to manage reasonably well.
One unusual and interesting point in that holiday was that Dad again
did a double painting of the same subject- this time ‘Yesnaby Castle’.
Instead of doing the conventional painting first and then maybe later
doing his triangular version, he did things the other way round,but
actually painting the subject twice from the same spot, the second one
in less wind I may add!

The summer of 1962 saw Dad undertake a long awaited and much planned
trip Canada. There had for some years been a hint of a story that a
painting of his,hanging in the summer exhibition of the Royal Academy
sometime in the mid 50’s had along with others accompanied the Queen on
her first tour to Canada. However one of Dad’s paintings had ended up
in Canada the upshot of which was an invite to go there,and which was
finally achieved in 1962. I was still on the H.M.S. Conway and so,proud
in my uniform of a Midshipman R.N.R. I accompanied them to Liverpool to
see them off on their way across the Atlantic on one of the great
Canadian Pacific liners. Having the ‘right’ uniform on helped in me
being allowed aboard to help stow their luggage and while so doing Dad
suffered a massive nose bleed caused by high blood pressure. The ships
doctor was summoned and eventually the Captain and chief Purser were
having to make a decision as to whether or not Dad could sail. I can
recall the Captain saying that since Dads little problem had happened
aboard his ship it was therefore up to him and his officers to see that
Mr.Kemp’s voyage was a safe and comfortable one. In those days when a
Captain spoke you said ‘Yes Sir’, something I soon learnt a few months
later when I finally went to sea as a young cadet officer with the
Royal Mail Lines. However Dad got safely to Canada without further
mishap and enjoyed visits to Quebec,Montreal,Ottawa,Winnipeg and
finally finishing up in Vancouver where they spent three happy months
staying with the Ludfords, friends of theirs from back in 30’s
Birmingham. Dad managed a few drawings and one or two paintings but I
do remember him saying that everything was so vast over there that he
found it difficult to get a sense of perspective.

The next three years I did not see so much of my parents as I was away
at sea. Dad made one or two trips to Spain where he seemed to get a new
lease of life in his paintings, he enjoyed the quality of light and the
new subject matter and I think some of the paintings from this short
period were some of the strongest he had done for some time. However by
the end of 1966 he was not in very good health again and the next year
was one of steady decline. Little new work was undertaken and Dad
seemed to spend a lot of time looking closely at paintings done years
before and on finding a fault,often only imagined , would want the
offending work unframed so he could ‘fix’ it. That may only involve a
brush stroke here or a bit more colour there but he was fractious if
the alteration wasn’t made.
Shortly before the final few months of his life Dad had a form of rally
and it was in that short period of time that he did what I think was to
be his greatest painting of all. He refused to title it and he jokingly
used to say that it was something of a self portrait but was in fact
the face of Christ with his crown of thorns and shedding a solitary
tear. One can draw ones own conclusions.
I was grateful to spend Dads final days with him, right up to the end
he maintained an interest in his paintings even telling me how to make
improvements where necessary. He had already discussed with me the
custodianship of his collection and what ideas he had towards that.
However that is yet another sad story and in no way reflects on my Dad.

Dad passed away in February 1968. He had left his body to the medical
school in Birmingham and within an hour or so of his death a doctor
came to our home to remove his eyes. He would have been so thrilled to
know that the next day someone would have their sight restored. What
can be more valuable to an artist than his eyes. In accordance with his
wishes there was no funeral or internment,Birmingham Medical School
politely informing my Mother of the scattering of his ashes in their
Garden of Remembrance some weeks later.
In my humble opinion his paintings are his Epitaph.


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MORE PICTURES BY ARTIST

Arthur Kemp
Porth Madog harbour, circa 1950
£1,950.00