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Five ample aboveboard canvases boss Ken Done’s light-filled, aerial flat overlooking the harbour at Mosman. Four are afresh completed while the fifth sits on an easel, a assignment in progress.
“It’s one of a alternation I’m alive on about Chinamans Beach,” he says. “I’m calling them addendum because a agenda is not too serious, right? It’s not the Sistine Chapel. Aloof a note.”
I’m analytical as to why one of the canvases is angry to face the wall.
“That one is an complete f—ing disaster,” he says. “It’s abashed and so it should be. But I can accomplish it assignment in the end.”
At about 82, the affection burns as blithely as anytime for Done as does his alluring addiction for self-deprecation. His charge to his convenance and assignment belief is legendary. While he has accumulated the array of abundance that presents about bottomless possibilities, he chooses instead to battle every day with brushes, acrylic and self-criticism in his studio.
“The drive is to abide to get better,” he says. “I’m painting over a lot of pictures that I’m not so crazy about. I’ve got to actually adulation them to accumulate them now. At 82 I’m bigger than I was at 42, but I achievement to be bigger still.”
Done carries those eight decades lightly. Instantly recognisable with his bedraggled blah beard and brand fashionably back-number moustache, he’s cutting a paint-spattered blah T-shirt and what looks like multicoloured pyjama pants, allegedly captivated up by a allotment of rope.
He’s abundant aggregation – gregarious, acceptable and funny – and acutely enjoys cogent tales from a activity able-bodied lived but is appropriately aflame about approaching projects.
The latest of those is a accord with an old friend, jazzman James Morrison, to activity designs assimilate the bluff of Customs House at Circular Quay as allotment of this year’s Vivid festival.
He says he was “thrilled” to be asked; and teaming up with Morrison afresh – the brace collaborated on a 1988 album, Postcards from Down Under – was a no-brainer. Entitled For Sydney with Love, it’s an admiration to the burghal that captured his affection from an aboriginal age.
Ken Done’s projections on Customs House as allotment of Vivid Sydney.Credit:
“As a kid, I lived in Belmore, and in those canicule the alternation chock-full at Central, so you had to get a bus to Circular Quay,” he says. “I’d blitz to that top bench to see the aboriginal glimpse of the amazing, bright harbour. You can never accoutrement up Sydney as connected as you accept the harbour.”
These days, he can see his admired harbour in all of its moods through about every window in his beauteous home, which is perched aloft Chinamans Bay. His circadian ritual involves a bathe and agriculture the bream that besiege in swarms anniversary morning at the end of the garden. Again it’s on to baby for the lorikeets and magpies because contrarily “they’d apparently accessible the fridge aperture and advice themselves”.
Done was aloof 14 aback he went to art academy at what was again East Sydney Tech, in Darlinghurst. He admired his time there, alike if his antecedent motivations were beneath than high-minded.
“What I absolutely capital to see was a absolutely nude woman,” he says. “I was 14 and I was ready.”
After four years of revelling in his studies – and the naked changeable anatomy – he was absorbed abroad by the anticipation of earning 14 pounds a anniversary at Smith and Julius, a Surry Hills bartering art studio.
It was to be the alpha of his badly acknowledged career in announcement – alike now he is still generally referred to sniffily as “former adman” Ken Done.
Ken Done’s “love letter to Sydney”: <i>For Sydney with Love</i>.Credit:
That career took him about the world, including diffuse stints in New York and London. But by the backward ’60s, the ache to become a full-time artisan had become overwhelming.
“I admired the ad business,” he says. “I had acceptable accounts and I was acceptable at it. But I capital to be a painter. So on the Monday morning I went in to John Sharman [the again administrator of ad bureau J Walter Thompson] and resigned, because if you’re activity to do it you accept to accord it 100 per cent.”
At the time, that abrupt accommodation to about-face his aback on a actual advantageous career afraid and anxious abounding of those about him, including Ric Hedley, a acquaintance from art academy with whom he charcoal close accompany about 70 years later.
“He was top of the tree,” Hedley says. “It was a big gamble. The painting business was actual accidental in those canicule because not alone did you accept to acrylic pictures, you had to get yourself exhibitions, you had to get to galleries, you had to get bodies afterward you.”
The aboriginal year or two of his apprentice art career were tough, but Done was never activity to end up craving in a garret; his bartering instincts were far too acute.
Vivid runs from Friday, May 27 to Saturday, June 18.
He staged his aboriginal exhibition in 1980 and anon afterwards accustomed the arcade in The Rocks that still bears his name. From there he and his wife, Judy, began bearing a ambit of accouterment and homewares featuring his upbeat, colourful and deceptively simple designs, which mainlined the zeitgeist of the ’80s and ’90s. Done-designed T-shirts, tea towels and swimwear became ubiquitous, decidedly in Japan, area his acceptability accomplished the abutting level.
“I could draw koalas so admirable that nine-year-old Japanese girls fainted from their actual cuteness,” he says, alone partly joking.
By the end of the 1980s, there were 15 Ken Done food beyond the country employing 150 staff, and Australia and the blow of the apple could not get abundant of his airy and optimistic style. There was hardly a home actuality after a Ken Done tea anhydrate in the kitchen or one of his calendars on the wall.
Yet, alike as he acutely had the apple at his feet, the art enactment and some abecedarian critics connected to affront at the “former adman”.
Brett Whiteley abundantly snickered, “I would rather booty methadone than Ken Done”. Added afresh the Herald’s John McDonald dubbed him “the DJ of Sydney’s abiding ball party”.
“Like a pop brilliant accepted for a few big hits he may get annoyed of singing the aforementioned old tune, over and over, but he’s able-bodied acquainted that he needs to accumulate giving his admirers what they want,” McDonald wrote.
When I mentioned over banquet afresh that I was autograph this profile, the after agitation was connected and active amid my friends, best of whom seemed to acreage on the arguable point that he can’t be a “real” artisan because he is “too commercial”.
This anniversary Spectrum cover, advised by Ken Done.
Barry Humphries, himself no drifter to the Australian captivation with abbreviating the active from assertive poppies, already told Done: “They’ll never absolve you for actuality successful.”
Done says he’s learnt to tune out the critics.
“It doesn’t get to me the way that it acclimated to. It acclimated to because I never set out to do annihilation to agitated people. I never shied abroad from my time in the business, or the actuality that I did some things that were actual commercial.
“Painters charge to accept a little bit about business. It’s too accessible for some painters to say, ‘I’m an artist, I don’t appetite annihilation to do with business’. If you’ve got an absolute assets or if you’re accepting money from the government, you can do that. But if you appetite to work, you’ve got to do some things that bodies will acknowledge to.
“It’s the easiest affair in the apple to say: ‘no one understands my work’. But maybe it’s not actual good? Could that be?”
Ten years ago, Done fabricated a alternation of paintings responding to the adventure of the Japanese abysmal advance on Sydney Harbour and the biconcave of HMAS Kuttabul. Uncharacteristically dark, the works admiring absolute attention, with babysitter Glenn Barkley alike declaring they could sit “comfortably” alongside any of Brett Whiteley’s works.
Ken Done at his Balmoral home in 1985.Credit:
Long-time friend, gallerist and beneficiary Trevor Harvey believes Done is painting bigger now than he anytime has.
“He’s actual under-rated, underestimated,” he says. “But he is painting at the aiguille of his powers. The aftermost four or bristles years he’s been accomplishing absolutely amazing, amazing work.
“He’s not bitter. He’s aloof accepting a admirable time with paint. And he goes about it every day. He thinks he’s got the best job in the world, which I anticipate is a admirable thing.”
Harvey credibility decidedly to a alternation of works that came from a 2015 cruise Done fabricated to Antarctica: “As a collector, I capital every piece, but of advance they got airtight up.”
Done himself says he is audition a about-face in how his assignment is regarded.
“It is alteration in lots of means over these aftermost brace of years because bodies accept the assignment more. But in the end, does that absolutely matter? I still accept to airing out of this allowance with a painting that I like to booty upstairs.”
It charcoal a actuality that there is not a distinct Ken Done in the abiding accumulating of the Art Arcade of NSW.
Loyal acquaintance Ric Hedley, who went on to a career teaching art, calls that blank “disgusting”.
“His assignment has been in Brisbane and Melbourne and Japan and all over the apple and he still can’t get one in the Art Arcade of NSW.”
Done is a little added measured.
“It’s … black would be one of the words. Narrow would be addition word. But I’m not activity to say allure me to your party. I’m not begging. The work’s there over a connected aeon of time. I would achievement at some point article I accept done ability be advised aces of keeping.”
Then, as if anxious he ability appear beyond as demography himself too seriously, he credibility to a artificial gnome sitting on a bookshelf in the studio.
“My babe gave me that gnome and it’s very, actual important to me,” he says. “It farts. And so if I’ve been in actuality alive and I think, ‘What a able boy I am’, I airing out the aperture and the gnome farts. It puts aggregate in perspective. Everybody should accept a farting gnome.”
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