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Australian art

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The dark changes and the Baal Shem



Franz Kempf

Israel, Australia

26 Jun 1926 -


Franz Kempf studied art in Melbourne, England and Europe in the 1940s and 50s, but spent most of his career in Adelaide, where he has been an influential figure as a teacher and artist since the early 1960s.

Kempf was a significant figure in the post-1960 revival of contemporary Australian printmaking. He lectured in the subject at the South Australian School of Art in the 1960s and established a printmaking Diploma there in 1971, as well as writing a book, Contemporary Australian Printmaking, in 1976. Since then he has continued to make and exhibit prints regularly.

This etching, while abstract, refers to a long-running theme in Kempf’s art, his Jewish faith. ‘Baal Shem’ is a Hebrew term meaning “Master of the Name”, that traditionally referred to a rabbi who had miraculous healing or mystical powers, through secret knowledge of the ‘ineffable names of God’.

Franz Kempf’s religious art is neither doctrinaire nor prescriptive. While some of his imagery is steeped within the traditions of his own Jewish faith, much of his thinking ranges freely over many religious conventions
(Grishin, Sasha, Smith, Robert, Dutkiewicz, Adam, 'Franz Kempf: thinking on paper 1955-2002', Kent Town (SA): Wakefield Press, 2002, p 2).

Kempf has produced a refined and beautiful abstract image that fully exploits the subtle possibilities of its medium; the image renders its subject, as referenced in the title, in a poetic and allegorical way.

It is a key for those people that know. It will undoubtedly speak to those of the Jewish faith who know its sources, and yet in a way it goes beyond the illustrative. Just as the audience of a musical performance or a poetry reading will take away a message relevant to themselves, so viewers will make their own reading (Kempf, quoted in Weston, Neville, 'Franz Kempf graphic works 1962-1984', Netley, South Australia: Wakefield Press, 1984 p 14).




Media category


Materials used

etching, aquatint, drypoint, printed from one copper plate in black ink on cream wove paper




23.0 x 25.2 cm platemark; 30.8 x 32.7 cm sheet

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.r., pencil "Franz Kempf 65".


Purchased with funds provided by the Australian Prints, Drawings and Watercolours Benefactors' Fund 2012


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Franz Kempf

Works in the collection


Shown in 1 exhibition

Exhibition history

Referenced in 3 publications


Sasha Grishin AM, Franz Kempf: thinking on paper 1955-2002, 'Gallery', pg. 12-59, Adelaide, 2002, 24 (colour illus.).

Josef Lebovic Gallery, Australian art, Sydney, 2010, 13 (colour illus.). 67; priced $990

Neville Weston, Franz Kempf graphic works, 1962-1984, Adelaide, 1984, 33 (illus.).