Ken Whisson

Ken Whisson trained as a painter in Melbourne during the 1940s under Russian émigré artist, Danila Vassilieff, whose direct and expressive style of painting had a major influence on the young artist. Whisson continues to practice Vassilieff’s early lessons: to work intuitively and immediately, from the left to the right of the picture, and then to ‘put it to the wall’.

Art Exhibition previously on at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Victoria, Australia.
From Saturday 17 March 2012 to Sunday 15 July 2012

Imaginary America  1974–75 image Flag for David Ireland no. 2  1979–80 image From the Newspapers no. 6  2003 image Green Horse  1975 image Group Photo with Big Bottle and Green Boat  2010 image

Published by anonymous on Wednesday 21 March 2012.
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Since the late 1970s, he has been based in the Italian city of Perugia, during which time his interests in displacement and memory have joined his enduring themes of landscape, identity and politics.

Highlights of this exhibition include Imaginary America (1974–75) from the artist’s celebrated St Kilda period. The painting combines Whisson’s trademark symbols and motifs – cars, the sea and clouded sky, and plasma-like figures – with his long-held theme of travelling and displacement, as suggested by the picture’s title.

During the late 1970s and 80s Whisson’s style became more abstract. His Flag series of paintings are a bridge between his work in Australia and that of Italy, where he began to use a multi-perspective treatment of space and an energetic push–pull of foreground and background. They also uncover a radical reinvention of the figure, with stripes and shapes that loosely correspond to the face becoming part of other constructions. The Flags are dedicated to a variety of people and places, and in the case of Flag for David Ireland No. 2 (1979–80), the Australian writer David Ireland.

roduced between 1998 and 2006, and numbering eight paintings in all, the From the Newspapers series reveal Whisson’s skill as a painter of reality imagined, though they are also the most reportage-like pictures of his oeuvre to date. Most of the images are sources from left-wing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto: snapshots of the world at war.

In a recent work, Group Photo with Big Bottle and Green Boat (2011), Whisson has suggested that a painting can be more revealing of the truth than a photograph, and as such the people in Group Photo might be more human than a near likeness can portray: in the artist’s words, ‘real, sexy, human’. The white-hatted figure on the right hand of the group may be a portrait of the artist himself.

Ken Whisson has spent more than sixty years creating images that challenge our understanding of place and time, and that prompt political and philosophical reflection. At the age of 84 he is painting as well as ever, and for the long haul.
Curator Lesley Harding is available for interview.