BY ANY MEA­SURE - RE­SILIENCE, COM­MER­CIAL SUC­CESS, CON­SIS­TENCY, CON­TENT­MENT - THIS 76-YEAR-OLD PAINTS QUITE THE POR­TRAIT.

GQ (Australia) - - GQ INC. - WORDS DAVID SMIEDT PHO­TOG­RA­PHY DAVID CO­HEN DE LARA STYLING BRAD HOMES

Now 76, Done’s cre­ated not just an im­mense body of work span­ning some four decades and 50 solo ex­hi­bi­tions, but a place among Aus­tralia’s most iconic artists. Along the way he’s also picked up count­less awards, fel­low­ships, and even an Or­der of Aus­tralia. Not that he’s one to buy into his own legacy. Af­ter all, this is a man who de­cided to go to art school at 14 be­cause he heard it was one of the few places a kid his age could see a naked woman. “Yeah, it’s true... And I somehow con­vinced my par­ents to let me leave school af­ter the equiv­a­lent of year 10 and go to art school. The idea that there was a place you could draw and paint all day – that was just de­li­cious.” Done ini­tially grad­u­ated into ad­ver­tis­ing, work­ing in New York and Lon­don be­fore mov­ing back to Syd­ney with his wife, Judy, whom he mar­ried in 1965. It wasn’t un­til the age of 40 that he set up his own busi­ness cre­at­ing and sell­ing art. “I had a fam­ily and a mort­gage so the sec­ond part of my busi­ness – the ‘mak­ing a liv­ing’ as­pect – was as im­por­tant as the first,” he says. “As far as the work it­self was con­cerned, I wanted it to be a cel­e­bra­tion of the city’s beauty, my bla­tant love of the place and Aus­tralia in gen­eral. Most of my work tends to be op­ti­mistic.” Which, as it turns out, doesn’t quite gel with the art es­tab­lish­ment. Glenn Barkley, se­nior cu­ra­tor at Syd­ney’s Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art from 2008 to 2014, says, “The ‘art world’ tends to em­pha­sise pol­i­tics and pain over things like joy and he­do­nism. It’s also good at turn­ing on any­one who is suc­cess­ful. But just be­cause some­thing has sheer vis­ual ap­peal doesn’t ex­clude [Done’s] work from being an in­tel­lec­tual ex­er­cise and deeply thought.” Barkley cites Done’s 2012 se­ries ‘At­tack’, which com­mem­o­rated 70 years since Ja­panese mid­get sub­marines snuck into Syd­ney Har­bour, as an ex­am­ple of the artist’s var­ied sub­ject mat­ter. “I think younger artists don’t have the same anx­i­ety about mov­ing be­tween the cre­ative worlds of fashion and art and the idea of an artist as brand – I think that’s why Ken is being looked at afresh and held in high re­gard by younger cre­ative peo­ple.” As for Done, he’s happy to turn left when hop­ping onto a long-haul flight. “It’s per­fectly all right for artists not to have to starve in the garage – sit­ting in the front of the plane is in­fin­itely bet­ter than the other end.” Beyond the re­lease of an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, A Life Coloured In, ear­lier this year, Done’s spent the past six years ex­clu­sively fo­cused on paint­ing – say­ing he’s never been busier. “These days, I hardly have time to get an erec­tion,” he of­fers with a smile. “And even then I need 24 hours’ no­tice, a hyp­no­tist and the Lu­ton Girls’ Choir.” All the while, his swimwear, prints and home­wares busi­ness has been tick­ing along with enough vigour to sur­vive a $20m sting, the re­sult of some bad in­vest­ments and a dodgy ac­coun­tant. Add to this a bout of prostate can­cer and it’s pretty clear the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian’s seen more than end­less blue Syd­ney skies. “I’ve made pic­tures about war and loss... But art should give you plea­sure, over time. You don’t want it to put out on the first date.” And here, even 40 years on, we’re still com­ing back for more.

THAT OTHER FAMED CONJURER OF SYD­NEY HAR­BOUR, BRETT WHITE­LEY, ONCE QUIPPED THAT HE’D “RATHER TAKE METHADONE THAN KEN DONE”. IN­DEED, DONE HAS LONG BEEN A CON­VE­NIENT PUNCH­ING BAG FOR THOSE WHO BE­LIEVE ‘SE­RI­OUS’ ART SHOULD BE ABOUT SUF­FER­ING, PAIN AND DARK­NESS. BUT IT’S NOT LIKELY TO COST THIS COLOUR­FUL AUSSIE ARTIST MUCH SLEEP.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.