Important Australian + International Fine Art
6 May 2015


born 1927

oil on canvas

110.0 x 120.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed verso: Title: Farmhouses, Ken Whisson, 29/9/86 + 6/11/86

$30,000 - 40,000
Sold for $33,600 (inc. BP) in Auction 39 - 6 May 2015, Melbourne

312 Lennox Street, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney

Catalogue text

Known somewhat misleadingly as a painter's painter, Ken Whisson's overall oeuvre is marked by a pragmatic approach to subject matter.

Fairly early in his career he established a series of themes from which he has rarely wavered - still life, figures in a room and the rural landscape are some of the dominant themes of a long career. This is mirrored by a steadfast dedication to a certain scale, a fairly standard easel sized canvas. However it is within these parameters of subject and materials that he has found nuances that have sustained a lifetime's work.

Since his move to Perugia in 1977 his painting has seen an increasing interplay between linear description and solid shapes; the ground itself becomes a more important element. As an intensely political and socially engaged thinker and individual, a political emphasis is often established by the title of his works.

Importantly memory, a retreat into the artist's past, provides a rich vein of motif and meaning as typified by the work Farmhouses, 1986. Whisson grew up in rural Lilydale and the painting could be a recollection of his childhood, albeit approached in Whisson's mature idiosyncratic painting style. The pictures are splayed across the surface in a series of interconnected scenes unfolding like a comic book. The descriptive architecture of the farmyard sheds and outbuilding evolves from the tip of Whisson's brush as it moves assuredly across the surface of the work.

The picture's restrained palette and almost minimalist application of paint suggests a work that has been made rather swiftly. Often, however, Whisson's works are many years in the gestation, especially if one accounts for the time between an image seen, or remembered, through to finally being laid down on the canvas. Multiple painting sessions add to the work's episodic character and each panel could have been made in separate campaigns in which the canvas can be rotated 360 degrees and other motifs added or subtracted. The chooks embedded in the painting's grid-like forms are constant characters that appear with some regularity within Whisson's oeuvre.

In 2012 Whisson was the subject of a major survey at Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney. As reviewed by John McDonald, the exhibition 'suggests that when we look back on Australian art of the late twentieth century we are going to have to find a prominent place for Whisson. He can no longer be dismissed as eccentric or idiosyncratic 'he is nothing less than a modern master'.1

1. McDonald, J., 'Outside of the awful mainstream', Sydney Morning Herald, 6 October 2012