Ken Done AM (b. 1940), painter, studied at East Sydney Technical College before becoming an advertising graphic designer. Having achieved great success in this field – he won a Cannes Gold Lion in 1967 – he gave it up to paint full- time in 1980, working from a ‘cabin’ below his home at Chinaman’s Beach on Sydney Harbour. Soon, his paintings of Sydney’s beaches, harbour, animals and flowers became the creative source for his range of placemats, t-shirts, bibs, swimwear, bedlinen, mugs and vases, marketed as Done Designs. By 1987, Done had an annual turnover of more than $4 million from his instantly- identifiable branded products. In 1992, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for tripartite services: to art, design and tourism. The success of his merchandise has been plausibly linked with Sydney’s rapid rise to an international holiday destination by the beginning of the 1990s. The genial artist was named Australia’s Father of the Year in 1989 and Mosman Citizen of the Year in 1993 and he was Australia’s Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF in 1993. A large exhibition of his art from the 1980s toured New South Wales between 1991 and 1993 and Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum held a large solo exhibition of his work in 1994– 95. His paintings sell well, particularly in the UK and Japan, but until this self portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, no major Australian gallery held an example of his work. Ken Done has painted self portraits in various styles. Me is executed in his customarily riotous palette. There are spots and stripes; the nose is a cord of yellow paint straight from the tube. The three eyes are portals to the cubist character of the self portrait, in which Done has merged a profile with a full face representation. Although he has painted his trademark moustache only once, two smiles traverse it, one in full face, a red banana shape, and one in profile, its yellow outlines loosely containing a few slashes of white teeth. The Harbour Bridge sits on his forehead like a set of patriotic wrinkles. The Opera House, on his cheek, has been a boon for Done. He says ‘I’ve drawn [it] straight. I’ve painted it in white, yellow, blue, pink, magenta, emerald, turquoise… purple and black. I’ve painted it soft, hard edged, ethereal, misty, blatant and bold. Upside-down, sideways and inside out.’ Done describes Me as at least in part a painting about the difficulty of painting.
Gift of the artist 2009
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2009.33
More about the artist and subject
With a mum who was married to a tradie, you’d think it a fair chance that the baby Jesus would have grown up with a dog in the house.
Magazine article, Portrait 33
Dr Sarah Engledow writes about the gift of two striking paintings by the Australian artist Ken Done AM.
Permanent collection catalogue
On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.