Important Australian + International Fine Art
27 August 2008

Ken Whisson

born 1927

oil on canvas

90.0 x 120.0 cm

signed, dated and inscribed verso: 26/1/87 / Ken Whisson / Title ‘Farm Drawing ‘2’ signed, dated and inscribed on canvas verso: Ken Whisson / ‘Trees and Structures’ 26/1/87

$28,000 - 36,000

Legge Gallery, Sydney (label attached verso)
Private collection, Sydney
Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 2 September 2003, lot 25
Private collection, Sydney


Peter Behan and Ken Whisson: Drawings and Drawings with Paint, Legge Gallery, Sydney, 22 October – 9 November 1996, cat. 20 (as 'Farm Drawing No.2')

Catalogue text

Fundamental to the highly enigmatic, gestural form of abstraction for which Ken Whisson has become renowned is the premise that art should be produced with intuitive spontaneity. As illuminated in his lecture on 'Technique and Intuition' at the Ballarat Art School in 1994, Whisson believes artistic creation reaches its zenith in the moment where the artist's conscious eyes and mind are totally surprised by what the brush has intuitively produced: 'By not looking at your own work you don't lose the thread of development, the ideas and developments come back from that dark pile of hidden paintings in a way that they will not come back if you look at them and wonder about them, have doubts, or worse, let them seduce you into thinking that what you have already done is your style and way of painting.'1

Interestingly, this honest and unpretentious approach to painting has resulted in a truly sophisticated, complex visual language that exerts increasingly compelling appeal on the viewer. Forms which initially appear disordered and unrelated, floating in spatial ambiguity, suddenly become familiar; as John McDonald observes, 'Looking at one of Whisson's works is like studying a diagram of the thinking mind.'2 It is the memory, with its bank of partially formed, non-sequential images, which bears the closest relationship to the reality of Whisson's work.

Executed in 1987 - the same year that Whisson was awarded a Visual Arts Board Emeritus Award for his invaluable contribution to Australian art - Trees and Structures belongs to a group of 'farm' paintings which emerge from the artist's memories of his Australian homeland, while at the same time recalling the rural landscape surrounding his adopted home in Perugia. Oscillating between figuration and abstraction, the work encapsulates the artist's enduring preoccupation with figure and ground relationships as sky, animals and grass all merge to create a visually dynamic composition, thus encouraging 'the viewer to see with the eye of the mind - rather than expecting a perfect match between an object and its representation.'3

1. Whisson, K., 'Talk 1994' reproduced in Ken Whisson: Paintings 1947-1999 with Writings and Talks by the Artist, Niagara Publishing, Melbourne, 2001, p. 43
2. McDonald, J., 'Introduction', cited ibid., p. 9
3. ibid.