Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.
Amandine Thomas on Ken Done
Having not grown up in Australia, cultural references are often lost on me. Quotes from popular movies, iconic foods and lyrics from Australian bands have me secretly Googling “The Castle Synopsis” or “What is Vegemite made from?” That is exactly how I came across Ken Done’s work, having heard his name mentioned with the same sort of affection as a childhood memory.
Everyone in the Dumbo Feather office remembered once wearing Ken Done bathers or a Ken Done hat. His work is so inherently Australian—with its iconic renditions of the Great Barrier Reef or Sydney Harbour—that my friends and colleagues seem to have claimed him as a part of their own stories. A monument to Australia’s landscape, culture and way of life.
But beyond being an Australian icon, Ken Done is first and foremost a talented painter—who wasn’t always recognised as such. With a previous career in advertising and a massive commercial success in the 80s, followed by a fall from popularity, Ken isn’t your typical artist. Critics have often been harsh, deeming his work too commercial, but he always stayed grounded. “You have to make money to be able to do what you want to do. And there is nothing wrong with that,” he says, with the authority of someone having started his painting career at 40, with a family to support and a mortgage to pay off. “Now the wheel has come right back around,” he laughs, happy to see his work embraced by a younger generation of Australians.
At 76, Ken has never stopped painting, and he doesn’t intend to retire any time soon. As I listen to his story in the little studio at the back of his gallery in The Rocks, Sydney, his love of Australia is obvious, and so is the mission he’s undertaken: not only to give people joy, but also to remind them how beautiful Australia is, and how fortunate we are to wake up here every day.