If you remember the 1980s in Australia, you remember Ken Done.
His bold, buoyant works of art – especially his sunny depictions of Sydney landmarks – are linked in the minds of many Australians with a spirit of 1980s optimism and entrepreneurialism. People decorated their homes, their beds and their bodies with Done’s colourful paintings, prints and designs. His name became a much-loved and instantly recognisable global brand. These days, the generation of kids that coveted Ken Done doona-covers and beach towels are adults leading a cult revival. They want Done on their walls, and in their wardrobes.
But Done’s story is not all glittering harbour scenes and vibrant, tropical fish-printed boardshorts. His new memoir, A Life Coloured In, tells the story of his early career in advertising and ascent to global fame – but also of stressful legal cases and a shock cancer diagnosis. Through it all, Done has continued to paint, attaining overdue critical acclaim for many of his recent works.
In conversation with Penny Modra, Done talks art, design and the creative impulse.
Ken Done’s first solo exhibition was held in Sydney in 1980. Since then, he has held over 50 one-man shows, including major exhibitions in Australia, Europe, Japan and the USA. His work has been described as the most original style to come out of Australia, and his paintings are in collections throughout the world.
Penny Modra is the editorial director at The Good Copy, a Melbourne-based writing school and consultancy. She is a regular ‘grammar enthusiast’ guest on ABC Radio Melbourne and teaches editing in RMIT University's Professional Writing and Editing program. Penny writes occasional features for the Guardian, Vice Australia, Frankie and Smith Journal.