Getting Down With Done

A few close friends and I were gallery hopping in Sydney on a beautifully spring-lit afternoon and decided to take a quick detour into Ken Done’s Gallery in The Rocks. As students of Art history and Curatorship at the ANU, we love nothing more than to immerse ourselves in the rich and unique artistic heritage of Australia. Ken Done and his wonderfully colourful, and bold abstract style are what distinguishes him as an iconic Australian artist.

Situated in one of Sydney’s heritage listed buildings, Ken Done’s Gallery is as much of a visual treat on the outside as it is on the inside. The historic brickwork and innately colonial façade of the structure was rather warm and welcoming. Upon entering the building, its beautiful rustic interior gives a contrasting prominence to the daring nature and vibrancy of his works that give character to each room. In the first room of the gallery, I found myself drawn to many of his coral reef impressions. One that I was particularly intrigued by was Coral Reef 1 (2003). This purple and blue abstract piece has an alluring, soothing and almost hypnotic charm to it. This work had me entranced, so much so that I almost didn’t recognise the figure standing behind my friends and I. The figure behind inquired “What do you think of this piece?”

Our little detour into Done’s gallery had turned into an unexpected run in with the legend, the artist, the man himself, Ken Done. Bewildered by his presence, my friends and I attempted to keep calm and collected. After talking art, he proceeded to invite us into his studio space. To say we fan-girled out at this point would be the understatement of the year.

His studio walls were covered in canvases; some of them blank awaiting their dollops of colour and others already splashed with every shade under the sun. To my right was an immaculately realistic and detailed sketch of a conch shell. That artwork in particular awakened me to the diversity of his oeuvre. Many may consider his works beautiful in their simplicity of colour and painterly style. Here was a work so intricate, so delicate and meticulous in nature, and so different from the familiarity of his more bright and cheerful works. Before we left, I asked him what he thought was the biggest issue with art today and his response has remained with me since.

“It is hard for artists these days, as your generation isn’t shocked by anything. Your generation has seen and heard many things. From beheadings to school shootings… nothing can really shock your generation anymore. Artists now have to think of alternative ways to reach their audiences to achieve that shock value.”

A wise man who obviously possesses a great talent for painting, Ken Done also likes to “dabble” in hyper-realistic drawing and chooses to create works that are more playful and erratic in character than serious. He feels that having fun with painting is not only the greatest way to express his inner child, but the greatest way to evoke a sense of joy, happiness, and in my case hypnosis, among his audiences. I think that this is far more important than any kind of shock value prevalent in art today.