SIX HOUSES AND ONE SHED, 2002 – 04

Important Australian Works of Art from the Estate of the late James O. Fairfax AC
Sydney
30 August 2017
31

KEN WHISSON

born 1927
SIX HOUSES AND ONE SHED, 2002 – 04

oil on linen

70.0 x 80.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title verso: TITLE: “Six “Houses” One Shed” / Artist: / Ken Whisson / Title: “Six Houses, One Shed” / Painting: 7/9/2002 & 1/1/03 / & 27/8/04 / …

Estimate: 
$20,000 – 30,000
Provenance

Watters Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso)
The Estate of the late James O. Fairfax AC, New South Wales, acquired from the above in 2005

Exhibited

Ken Whisson – Paintings and Drawings, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 4 – 29 October 2005, cat. 12 (illus. in exhibition catalogue, and on invitation)

Catalogue text

Ken Whisson has been exhibiting annually in Australia for decades. The consistency of his output in these exhibitions is unmatched and his often perplexing images are unique in Australian art. His 2012 retrospective exhibition at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne was testament to the high regard in which he is held by collectors, critics and curators alike. Contrary to convention, Whisson creates his images without any plan or notion of where the picture will go. As the artist explains:

‘I just prepare a piece of canvas, a stretched canvas, white, clean. Sit down in front of it for half or three quarters of an hour till I haven’t the faintest idea of what I am going to do, and then I start painting. Sometimes with a considerable effort of will, of course. When you have a blank canvas in front of you, you have deliberately driven all thoughts and ideas out of your mind, it isn’t easy to make the first move into a painting – and sometimes the result is total chaos, sometimes semi-total chaos ... but through all of this one arrives at moments (and sometimes these moments persist for several weeks) – in which everything goes right, and in which a quite complex painting, complex on every level, can be completed within a couple of hours’.1

Six Houses and One Shed, 2002 – 04, presents Whisson’s familiar repertoire of motifs such as trees, buildings and fields of colour, and each compete for space within the picture. The composition is made up of several pictures which come together to form the overall impression. The six houses referred to in the title are possibly the same house, and each image evolves as the artist recalls aspects of the house and surrounds at that time. Using recollections of a place or event as the core subject, the artist constructs his images in a way which aims to reflect the thought process; he distils layers of complex visual memories into essential triggers for past experience. His work is so deeply rooted in memory, he has suggested that his paintings reveal things that he himself cannot remember – ‘Certainly my paintings have a much better memory than I do for the things I’ve seen’.2

Whisson’s use of bright secondary colour is most important, enabling him to present the forms in a layered, matter of fact and almost simplistic manner. His basic colour combinations are not dissimilar to those of a sign writer and he uses them with similar intent; to arrest the viewer’s attention, and lead the eye through the narrative in an almost subliminal manner.

There is a profound clarity about Whisson’s painting. Apart from several early works where the influence of Danila Vassilieff and Sidney Nolan is evident, the majority are totally original images. The artist used his early influences as a springboard into his imagination, applied his own ideas about painting and never looked back. They are direct and uncompromising pictures in every way. Perhaps it is Whisson’s choice to live a life devoid of the usual excesses which has enabled him to create such an unparalleled and even body of work over so many decades of dedicated practice.

1. Whisson, K., quoted in Ken Whisson Paintings 1957-1985, Broken Hill City Art Gallery, New South Wales, 1985, p. 19
2. ibid.

HENRY MULHOLLAND
Senior Art Specialist
Deutscher and Hackett