Skip to main content

Ken Done

'I am very Sydney'

Iconic Australian artist Ken Done discusses his life and career as a painter.

This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.

- I like to make pictures. I've made a few sculptures, I've made a little bit of pottery, but basically I'm a painter. I'm not complaining, but I've had to overcome a lot of early success in the sense that the early things that people saw were very commercial things. I was 40 when I had my first exhibition. It's quite old, really. But, that's just the way it was for me.

If you like visual things, you know, that's what you like, you like all kinds of things and the only criteria should be, was it any good? You know, do you like it? I am very Sydney. I live beside Sydney Harbour which is a fantastic place to be. I kayak on the harbour, I feed the fish, I don't like to catch them anymore. I feed them, in fact, if anybody comes down here and they say, is there any fish around? I say, oh, no, there's no fish around here. No fish around here. But of course there are, top of the tide, there's eight big bream, I almost know them by name, come around each morning. There's parts of the harbour close by here, where we live, that hasn't changed forever. No houses, look exactly the same as when aboriginal people lived here or even later when Captain Cook came through. That's one of the great things about Sydney, I think, is that they've still preserved that natural landscape in some parts. Such a beautiful place. Almost inevitably you'll make pictures that try to be beautiful. You can't be as beautiful as itself, you can never be as beautiful as nature, you can not. But all you can do is to use that environment to lead you to make a painting that somehow might have the feeling of it.

It's a complicated picture and it clearly set out to show that there's a kind of public face that I have. That's most of the time smiling and most of the time optimistic. But there's another face, maybe another even two faces within there that I hope shows a sadder side or a different kind of sensitivity. Glenn designed a house for us. We've known him a long time, he's a lovely man. And I did make a small drawing, but I wanted to make the painting as simple and as elegant as one of his buildings. I love the fact that in the portrait gallery, you've sometimes shown them both together and it just shows his elegant simplicity against the kind of complication of my self portrait which, you know, I would say straight to the psychiatrist, looking at that painting.