Ken Done: Art, Design, Life
Amber Creswell Bell
Thames & Hudson
The Australian poster boy of multidisciplinary artistic practice and commercial savvy, Ken Done’s impressive career has encompassed the terms ‘ad man, designer, entrepreneur, brand name, fashion tycoon, public figure’ and, of course, artist. Amber Creswell Bell’s monograph ‘Ken Done: Art, Design, Life’ is a comprehensive publication championing Done’s enduring legacy and his work over the last 40 years.
As the title alludes, the book is broken into three sections: Art, Design and Life – with thematic chapters contained within each part offering snippets of insights and sources of inspiration from the artist, as well as essays by Creswell Bell and Glenn Barkley, richly illustrated with Done’s vibrant artworks, design projects and his expansion into textiles.
An alumnus of the National Art School, Done began the professional training of his craft in his late-teens; however, it was his first exhibition in Sydney at age 40 that acted as the catalyst to pursue a full-time artistic career – challenging popular notions governing age and accomplishment. This seminal exhibition at Holdsworth Galleries saw Done working with the late Gisella Scheinberg. While the book is silent on this point, Done would have arguably applied lessons learnt from the pioneering Scheinberg when opening his own gallery space. Done does confidently share that ‘an artist opening their own gallery is no different from a chef opening their own restaurant… and gives you the great flexibility of showing what you want.’
The book spotlights Done’s contributions in many artistic communities and cultural and curated events, locally and internationally. Synonymous to his use of colour is his love of the splendour of Sydney, his longterm muse. From ‘The Cabin’ we are invited into the artist’s studio housed in Chinamans Bay and his harbour scenes have regarded Done as the ‘great chronicler’ of the central heart of the city. His projects abroad that are canvassed include his partnership with Japanese magazine Hanako – which used Done’s artworks for every one of their weekly covers over the course of 13 years; the magazines themselves forming an impressive survey of his practice.
While Done’s oeuvre is on occasion scrutinised in fine art circles, with the artist a ‘perennial outsider’ and his success a product of his entrepreneurial stripe, the publication reveals tenets of Done’s practice which are perhaps shadowed by his familiar gaudy imagery. The essays contained in the book unpack Done’s work as going to the centre of what is universally celebrated in the art world – challenging the status quo, educating and unifying us and ultimately bringing joy.
For the 80 year old Done there is ‘Nothing more exciting than a white canvas and starting. Nothing more difficult than knowing when to finish… And even when you finish, well – that’s only half the conversation. Then it’s what someone else feels about it, what someone else’s perspective brings to it.’ Done tells Cresswell Bell that he has many more paintings in him yet; but with a restrained palette, solely using red, pink, blue and yellow – restrained maybe, but nonetheless a bright sounding future!
Alice Dingle is a Sydney-based arts writer.