When you are inspired by something, do you draw it down or create an image in your mind for a future painting? Ninety percent of my work is done from what’s in my head; my memory. It comes from a lifetime of painting and thoughts. See that shell drawing on my wall which I did when I was a kid? Well, the idea of that shell might turn up in a painting sometime. It’s all from experience; there are no short cuts to painting.
What is one of the nicest things an admirer of your work has done for you? A kid just sent me a great recreation of my book cover! I do get lots of mail because I am studied at schools, but I’m very grateful firstly, that I inspire others, and secondly that I’m accessible. Artists are not outsiders, we’re part of the community just like an architect or plumber.
You mention in your book that overseas, people were impressed that you had done a myriad of jobs as an art director. Do you think in Australia we have more opportunities before being pigeonholed? That was when I was starting out as an art director about 50 years ago, it might not be so much like that now, but as an art director you do get experience in a variety of things. You create a visual library in your head and lots of different skills.
How did you decide it was the right time to start painting full time? I had been painting for a while and then dedicating one day a week to painting. I also knew I wanted to travel. It was in New Caledonia on a Sunday night, the last day of the trip, when I was talking to the late Peter Brock, the racing car driver and we were discussing that you really had to love and have a passion for what you do. On Monday I went to work (as an art director) and resigned to start painting full time.
What was the most interesting thing you discovered when writing this book? That my memory is good regarding images. I have a memory bank of vivid visuals which I can draw on from over the years.
What are your favourite tools and mediums? Oil, water colour, Vegemite – you name it. Give me just about anything and I can make some marks and a painting with it.
What would you most like to ask Matisse? I’m not sure I have anything in particular to ask Matisse, but we’d have a really great long conversation about everything from art to sculpture.
What have you been working on since the book was published? I’ve just finished paintings inspired by my trip to Antarctica. I painted them all back in Sydney – they are all about my feelings when I was in the Antarctic. We’re just about to hang the exhibition. (7th June – 5th July, 2016. Proceeds from this exhibition support the McGrath Foundation and the Mawson’s Hut Foundation).
If there were no restraints, what would you like to paint? An aircraft carrier – really bright like the parrots in Australia. I’d like to change the image of military things.
Can you tell us about some of your future exhibitions? Sure – there is one at Rockhampton in October about The Great Barrier Reef and one in The National Portrait Gallery (Canberra) in November about artists with their pets. What a great idea; mine is about my dogs, of course.
Portrait photo by Stuart Spence.
Ken Done Gallery; https://kendone.com.au/. Instagram: @kendonegallery. Twitter: @kendonegallery
Read my review of ‘Ken Done; A Life Coloured In‘ here.