John Urho Kemp
This Californian artist, who died in 2010, had a degree in chemical engineering. Fascinated by meditation and metaphysics, he sought to unravel the mysteries of existence through formulas and numbers drawn from his own history. This “conceptual brut” artist sometimes photocopied his work to distribute it to as many people as possible. In 2014, Daniel Baumann introduced him to the 548 Center in New York. The following year, we entrusted Gael Charbau with writing an essay and curing the monographic exhibition held at the gallery. In the same year, Alfred Pacquement, former director of Pompidou, presented a John Urho Kemp installation at the Musée des Beaux-arts in Paris.
John Urho Kemp (1942-2010) graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1965 with a degree in chemical engineering and biochemistry. He worked as a chemical engineer for almost two years, then quit to study Scientology in England and Los Angeles until 1971. He spent the next decade running an antique store in Los Angeles. Amongst other interests, he traveled the world to witness solar eclipses and frequented hot springs of Northern California. Throughout his life he sought revelations through meditation, metaphysics, formulas, and numbers, recorded primarily in pencil and pen on the blank surfaces of scrap papers.
Much of his work was refined and compiled into compact documents that were then photocopied and leafletted as a means of sharing his findings with as many people as he could. An online archive of his work is underway, and includes poems, equations, drawings, and collages from 1979-2010.
We owe the rescue and archiving of his numerous works to his friend, the photographer Aram Muksian, namely thousands of pages, diagrams, sketches and numerical sequences, to the point of colonizing endless bundles of dot-matrix printer paper.
Daniel Baumann – curator, art critic and current director of the Kunsthalle of Zürich as well as of the Wölfli Foundation in Berne – dedicated an exhibit to him at the 548 Center in NY in 2014.