DRUMMER, c.1973

National Australia Bank Collection
22 February 2022


born 1927
DRUMMER, c.1973

oil on composition board

85.0 x 108.5 cm

signed, dated and inscribed with title on handwritten label verso: KEN WHISSON / “DRUMMER” / ABOUT 1973 
inscribed with title on frame verso: DRUMMER 

$25,000 – $35,000
Sold for $85,909 (inc. BP) in Auction 67 - 22 February 2022, Melbourne

Cherelle Hutchinson, Melbourne
Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne
The National Australia Bank Art Collection, acquired from the above in November 1978 (label attached verso)


Possibly: Ken Whisson, Ray Hughes Gallery, Brisbane, 17 June – 6 July 1973
The Seventies: Australian Paintings and Tapestries from the Collection of National Australia Bank, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 15 October – 28 November 1982
Collection of Modern Art in the Seventies, Latrobe Valley Arts Centre, Victoria, 9 May - 2 June 1985
The Seventies: Australian Paintings and Tapestries from the Collection of National Australia Bank, Geelong Art Gallery, Victoria, 30 April - 29 May 1988
The Seventies Exhibition: Selected Paintings from the National Australia Bank Collection, MacLaurin Hall, The University of Sydney, Sydney, 6 September - 1 October 1989, cat. 38


Lindsay, R., The Seventies: Australian Paintings and Tapestries from the Collection of National Australia Bank, The National Bank of Australasia, Melbourne, 1982
'Insight into Recent Art', The Express, Victoria, 2 May 1985, p. 12 (as 'The Drummer')

Catalogue text

Born in Lilydale Victoria in 1927, Ken Whisson was part of a generation of artists that included Albert Tucker, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, and the European migrant Danila Vassilieff, who as his teacher, had a profound early influence on the young artist. There is an almost cult status around Ken Whisson and his work. To own a Whisson painting is to belong to a coalition of collectors that share a commitment to a form of painting that is not simply fashionable, but deeply rooted in ideas and painterly possibilities. And the more contorted and fluid his forms are, the more desirable the works become to his collectors. 

By the early 1970s Ken Whisson had abandoned any obligation to painterly traditions; his paintings from this period, those on board in particular, exhibit a direct uncompromising approach which is purely intuitive. These works are defined by an absence of conventional technique, for Whisson deploys his unique home-grown techniques, while working towards an unseen and unplanned conclusion. Paradoxically, adopting this approach can be as difficult to master as the dry academic techniques so widely taught, recognised and valued as ‘good painting’ – which are the antitheses of Whisson’s work.

Drummer, painted around 1973 when the artist was living in St Kilda, is a bright, bold example of his St Kilda period. Painted on board, these works are characterised by crisp, broken horizons and gyrating figures. These are set against slabs of landscape disrupted by angular thought balloons or images of ships that appear to have broken free and float across the surface. The current example appears as a theatrical tableau, the play between the two figures (male and female) and their place in the surrounding environment make up the work. They may represent a memory of buskers working the St Kilda promenade. The male on the right appears to be the drummer from which we get the title. As he drums the female figure gently swings along, her soft profile looking to the left as if alerted to a third party. The cylindrical form placed at the front centre of the work suggests a drum, however in the case of Whisson, a title can be misleading and the figure may or may not actually be a drummer –perhaps standing suggestively near a form such as post or bollard instead. 

There is a profound clarity or purity about Whisson’s paintings. Apart from several early works where the influence of Danila Vassilieff and Sidney Nolan is evident, the majority are highly original paintings. They are direct and uncompromising, composed of complex personal images which challenge the viewer to question what passes for good painting.