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Glenn Murcutt
, 1992

by Ken Done

synthetic polymer paint on canvas (frame: 156.0 cm x 117.7 cm, support: 151.5 x 115.0)

Glenn Murcutt AO (b. 1936), architect, received the world’s highest architectural honour, the Pritzker Prize, in April 2002. Having spent a good deal of his youth in New Guinea, where he learned to love simple shapes and materials, Murcutt studied at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 1961. As a student, he drew on principles he had learned while working for his father, a ‘jack of many trades’ who had a number of building businesses in Sydney after the war. Murcutt is unusual amongst Pritzker winners in that he works alone, mostly on residential homes; he has never made a skyscraper or a tourist attraction; and he uses mostly basic materials. He uses shades, louvres, fully opening walls and carefully planned ventilation to enable his buildings to respond instantly to changing conditions and requirements. His overriding design philosophy is that dwellings should ‘touch the earth lightly’. There are several books about his work, including Leaves of Iron (1991) and Touch This Earth Lightly (2000) by Philip Drew and Glenn Murcutt: Buildings + Projects 1962-2003 (2003) by Françoise Fromonot. Murcutt’s son Nick, who died in 2011, was also an architect.

Glenn Murcutt designed Ken Done’s house in Middle Harbour (Mosman) in 1990. A couple of years later, Done painted his architect. Keen for the portrait to accord with the personal style of his khaki-clad sitter (he says wryly that the top of his friend’s head reminds him of the curve of a typical Murcutt roof), the artist kept the work very simple. The details of the architect’s face are reduced to lidless and browless eyes, nose and lips; the water is reflected in his signature half-spectacles. Floating in the blue sky over his head are the sun and moon, which sit beneath the architect’s name like golden medals or seals. The painting was exhibited in the Archibald Prize in 1993 and the Powerhouse retrospective of Done’s work in 1994–1995.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2009.32