Ken Done – Australiana at it very best

When it comes to an example of art in real life Ken Done mastered this concept. As a child of the eighties Ken Done was a consistent feature in my childhood experience of art. From my swimmers to my doona cover, to the table place mats, beach towel graphics, the postcards I collected every trip to Sydney and the scarf loosely tied around my mama’s décolletage – his art was everywhere in my world – and I loved it!! I still do, thirty odd years later.

He broke a static mould for Australiana Art that the exuberant tourist and landscape weary citizens alike collected as souvenirs of abstract Australian life. The colours were so representative of the carefree happiness of Aussie life, the lifework represented our abundant freedom and the scenes he captured were iconic locations of Sydney delivered in a new albeit not so sophisticated manner but definitely celebratory in style. I guess as a child all these concepts were a little lost on me – because what I saw was bright, bright, bright colours that were a distinct bolt of excitement amongst the 80’s Nutrimetic Apricot & Cream interior decoration that was ever so pervasive in the homes of the day – and they were aspirational as I decided quite early on that I needed to visit each the places he painted to see if they really looked that way. Kid logic they called it!


This piece above and the one below are two of those in my own hometown regional gallery – with the painting below Burning Cane depicting my beautiful home.

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It was around this early time in my life I first felt the feelings of rage when I heard people (usually dad’s) saying “I could do that, you can do that, Mr Scribble can do that”.  Man alive really?? I recall wanting to go and get my paints and give them to said persons and say – “ok go ahead, I’d love to see how well you can do that!” but alas as a child I just accessed that little reserve tank of grace and continued staring at the beautiful brilliant pools of colour. Nowadays – my reserve is empty and I certainly do not exude grace at this comment!

I digress. My apologese.



The media loved Mr Done! Loved him! I recall flipping through my mama’s Women’s Weekly magazines for my “collage projects and decoupage projects” (oh insert cringing face) and being waylaid by the multiple pages throughout featuring Ken Done homewares, fashion, accessories, jewellery and poster art. I recall having a cork pinboard on my wall with torn out shards of Ken Done a frequently pinned item – much to my mama’s annoyance, I think she even took a page of that board to finish reading the article on the reverse side!


My favourite piece Bungle Bungle – housed at the Grafton Regional Art Gallery

Nowadays, Ken Done is less frequently found, however I am certain most Australian of the eighties could dig deep in their side board or linen closet and find a remnant of his art amongst the time weathered and dusty keepsakes that just can’t be discarded for sentimental rationale. He is I was pleased to find out still a practicing artist and has recently resurrected his art with a whole new philosophy (read about this here) and you can still buy his older prints.

His style is instantly recognisable and to be honest I have not come across anyone who has attempted to replicate his works. The compositional expertise of Ken Done is awe inspiring to artists, however his work was widely poo-pooed by the art aficionados of the day – which is likely associated with the hyper-commercialisation of his art. I like to point out that the art afficiandos of the days past also did a great deal of poo-pooing toward the impressionists, dadaist, pop-artists – in fact who listens to critics anyways? I still believe that he holds a special place in the heart of Australians as a wonderful commodity and a collectable artist.


In fact I have started seeing around the place young girls sporting “vintage” scarfs and hand bags they scored from their local op-shop for a treat – featuring the beautiful and unmistakeable art of Mr Ken Done. Not sure they know the relevance of their purchase – but I am certain someone (possibly me) is more than happy to stop them in the street and do that age old right of passage bragging “oh I had one of those when I was a teenage girl too, don’t you just adore Ken Done”. I am acutely aware I am highly likely to get the deer in the headlights stare back at me – but you never know that comment may just spark her interest enough to reintroduce Ken Done Art to the next generation.


So tell me, you had a piece of Ken Done didn’t you? Bet you wish you could find it right about now and do some serious reminiscing of lazy days by the water wearing your fruit salad dress and bright yellow sandals sipping from your can of solo and about to dig into some salty chips with sauce…