Australia, born 1927
worked Italy and Australia from 1978
Paddocks, factories, and shapes, 1989
oil on canvas
80.0 x 120.0 cm
inscribed on reverse: Paddocks, Factories and Shapes / Ken Whisson Perugia 11.2.89 & 7.5.89
Ken Whisson: paintings and drawings, Watters Gallery, Sydney, 18 October-4 November 1995, catalogue no.7
John McDonald, Ken Whisson: paintings 1947-1999, with writings and talks by the artist, Melbourne, undated , p.78 illustrated
So many of Ken Whisson’s paintings always seem to flutter as if a gentle breeze is perpetually blowing. His fascination with the flags, ships at sea, trees, people and animals in the landscapes he paints is evident in his earliest paintings from the 1950s. In more recent work solidly painted backgrounds give way to white primed canvas and allow for an even greater sense of sunlight and movement. In the same way, his subjects are never quite pinned-down, only parts can be determined. Edges of buildings, roofs and walls, parts of ship and aeroplanes, trunks of trees, hints at animals and people, often shadows, all suggest movement and the difficulty of capturing the scene.
After time spent travelling in England, Europe and Morocco, aged about fifty, Whisson settled in the university town of Perugia, the capital of Umbria, about half way between Rome and Florence. While making regular visits to Australia he lived and worked there until recently when he came back to settle in Sydney. In his 90th year he continues to devote himself to painting and drawing. Whisson has exhibited with Watters Gallery since 1980.
In a talk, titled Art in the second half of the twentieth century, given by Whisson in 1997 he discussed some of his attitudes to contemporary art.
‘…it is essential for an artist to develop a very rigorous faculty for making judgements, for being able to say ‘yes!’ to what is of interest to oneself and ‘no!’ to what is not. In place of acceptance, value judgements, even brutal ones, even random or haphazard judgements … are better than mindless acceptance of whatever comes before us.
… art is modern – I prefer the term avant-garde – where it resists and transforms the modern world and its technologies and clichés. It is not avant-garde or modern in any real sense where it makes itself adequate or subservient to the modern in the sense in which that word is more commonly used outside of art. And this applies to these mass movements even more so than to individual works of art. One takes from the former what is of use to oneself and most of the time this will not be very much, so that in practice one will, as in the past, create as part of a small embattled group or sadly, but more likely as things stand, as an individual deriving strength and dynamic from one’s own personal comprehension of the history of art from Cezanne forward, and one’s own comprehension of what comes before us day by day, month by month.’
While acknowledging that he belongs to, but at the same time stands apart from most of the ‘-isms’ of modern art, Whisson explains why his art does not neatly fit into any current category of fashionable art. He is one of the great individuals of Australian art.
In Paddocks, factories, and shapes, 1989, the painted elements are carefully arranged on the canvas, giving the appearance of being cut-out shapes. These are just parts of a whole landscape, the parts that interested Whisson and which he chose to use in this composition. However, these shapes do not float on the surface of the canvas as they might in an abstract painting or collage, but are arranged to create a sense of great depth. It is a landscape into which the viewer can walk, across paddocks, past factories and trees, towards distant hills. The nature of the shapes might not be specified, but they help create a landscape.
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