Done in his own style
TELL your grandchildren to shut down the ipad and mobile phone, take off their shoes, and just go and muck around!
Some words of wisdom from one ofAustralia’s most recognised artists, Ken Done.
As Ken approaches his 72nd birthday (in June) he spoke about his beloved granddaughters Ava – who is “three going on 17” – and Stella, five months; his two children; his health; his art; his wife of 46 years, Judy; and life in general.
A prolific artist who did not exhibit until he was 40, Ken has had his fair share of critics over the years who labelled his art as “too commercial”.
But his distinctive work, especially his bright, colourful images ofSydneyHarbour, is instantly recognised and popular around the world. He did the art for the program for the opening and closing ceremonies at the Sydney 2000 Olympics. His decades-long relationship withJapanis well documented, after Tokyo fashion and lifestyle magazine Hanako featured a Ken Done painting on the cover every week for 15 years.
This month a series of 14 Ken Done paintings, commissioned byMosmanArtGallery, will mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese midget submarine attack onSydneyHarbour(May 31-June 1, 1942).
But Ken admits many people could be shocked by the darkness of the paintings.
“Oh, I hope they are shocked,” Ken said. “I certainly didn’t set out to glorify war – I hope there is never another war.AustraliaandJapannow have a close and friendly relationship.”
In fact, his father was a bomber pilot during WWII and was away for much of Ken’s early childhood.
Getting the paintings ready for the Mosman Art Gallery exhibition, Ken encountered a slight hurdle – prostate cancer. Last year, a simple PSA test revealed he had the disease and that surgery was essential. With his typical get-on-with-it attitude, Ken had the prostate removed on a Friday, was home on the Sunday and back painting on the Wednesday.
“I just needed to paint,” he said. “I want to let men know that you can recover from the actual operation quite swiftly.
“It did take quite a few months to get back to being fully functioning, but the operation itself is not a big deal.”
Ken was born in Belmore and his first fond memories ofSydneyHarbourare of when he visited his grandparents who lived at Fairy Bower, Manly, and rode on the Manly Ferry.
“I remember the ferry sailing through the (anti-submarine) net that was still there in the mid-to-late 1940s,” he said.
When his father returned from the war, Ken’s family moved to Maclean, a small North Coast town on the Clarence River, where he says his boyhood was “an idyllic country childhood. We didn’t wear shoes to school, there was no homework and no TV. My mates and I just mucked around.”
Ken and Judy raised two children, Oscar and Camilla, and his art gallery and studio at The Rocks is a family business. He and Judy have lived in what they call “the cabin” at Chinamans Beach for many years.
Australian Father of the Year in 1989, Ken is a long-time ambassador for UNICEF.
Granddaughter Ava loves visiting granddad in his studio and making her own mark with the paints, but it was his appearance on TV’s Play School that shot him to rock-star status in her eyes.
In 1992 Ken received the Order of Australia for services to art, design and tourism.
Upcoming exhibitions include a display of his Sea Gardens paintings at Tweed Regional Gallery, Murwillumbah. And in September an exhibition of works will be opened inDenmarkby Princess Mary, featuring paintings to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Opera House (architect Jorn Utzon was Danish).
After living an idyllic childhood, it could be said Ken is now living an idyllic adulthood.
He and his wife swim inMiddleHarbourevery morning, they kayak regularly, take walks along the beachfront, and he plays golf.
They are soon off on an overseas odyssey to theGalapagos Islandsand other destinations to indulge in one of their passions, snorkelling.
Attack: Japanese Midget Submarines in Sydney Harbour, Paintings by Ken Done. Mosman Art Gallery, May 19-July 8, cnr Art Gallery Way & Myahgah Rd, Mosman, 9978-4178, www.mosmanartgallery.org.au
Ken Done Art Gallery, Hickson Rd, The Rocks, 8274-4599, www.kendone.com