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Me
, 1992

by Ken Done

oil and synthetic polymer paint on canvas (frame: 119.7 cm x 94.5 cm, support: 102 cm x 76 cm)

Ken Done AM (b. 1940), painter, studied at East Sydney Technical College before becoming an advertising graphic designer. Having achieved great success in this field – he won a Cannes Gold Lion in 1967 – he gave it up to paint full-time in 1980, working from a ‘cabin’ below his home at Chinaman’s Beach on Sydney Harbour. Soon, his stylised, colourful representations of Sydney’s beaches, harbour, animals and flowers found their way onto placemats, t-shirts, bibs, swimwear, bedlinen, mugs and vases; in the 1990s, the walls, ceiling and some furniture in the Garden Restaurant at the Powerhouse Museum were covered with murals by the artist. His crucial role in promoting Sydney as a tourist destination, particularly in Japan, is now widely acknowledged. Until this self-portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, no major Australian gallery held an example of his work, but his business has stayed strong, and his paintings still sell well, particularly in the UK and Japan. The genial artist was named Australia’s Father of the Year in 1989, Mosman Citizen of the Year in 1993, Australia’s Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF in 1993 and a Taronga Zoo Centenary Ambassador (promoting awareness of difficulties facing sea turtles) in 2016. Done’s memoir Ken Done: A life coloured in was published in 2016 and his Ken Done: Paintings you probably haven’t seen in 2017.

OLD CAPTION

Ken Done AM (b. 1940), painter, studied at East Sydney Technical College before becoming an advertising graphic designer. Having achieved great success in this field – he won a Cannes Gold Lion in 1967 – he gave it up to paint full- time in 1980, working from a ‘cabin’ below his home at Chinaman’s Beach on Sydney Harbour. Soon, his paintings of Sydney’s beaches, harbour, animals and flowers became the creative source for his range of placemats, t-shirts, bibs, swimwear, bedlinen, mugs and vases, marketed as Done Designs. By 1987, Done had an annual turnover of more than $4 million from his instantly- identifiable branded products. In 1992, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for tripartite services: to art, design and tourism. The success of his merchandise has been plausibly linked with Sydney’s rapid rise to an international holiday destination by the beginning of the 1990s. The genial artist was named Australia’s Father of the Year in 1989 and Mosman Citizen of the Year in 1993 and he was Australia’s Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF in 1993. A large exhibition of his art from the 1980s toured New South Wales between 1991 and 1993 and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum held a large solo exhibition of his work in 1994– 95. His paintings sell well, particularly in the UK and Japan, but until this self portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, no major Australian gallery held an example of his work. Ken Done has painted self portraits in various styles. Me is executed in his customarily riotous palette. There are spots and stripes; the nose is a cord of yellow paint straight from the tube. The three eyes are portals to the cubist character of the self portrait, in which Done has merged a profile with a full face representation. Although he has painted his trademark moustache only once, two smiles traverse it, one in full face, a red banana shape, and one in profile, its yellow outlines loosely containing a few slashes of white teeth. The Harbour Bridge sits on his forehead like a set of patriotic wrinkles. The Opera House, on his cheek, has been a boon for Done. He says ‘I’ve drawn [it] straight. I’ve painted it in white, yellow, blue, pink, magenta, emerald, turquoise… purple and black. I’ve painted it soft, hard edged, ethereal, misty, blatant and bold. Upside-down, sideways and inside out.’ Done describes Me as at least in part a painting about the difficulty of painting.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2009.33