Born in Lilydale outside Melbourne, Whisson studied briefly at Swinburne Technical College before training under Danila Vassilieff in 1945-46, where he gained direct access to and influence from the Heide circle of figurative expressionists.
With their reduction of form and distorted perspective, his early work was indebted to Nolan as well as Tucker, Boyd and Perceval. Following his move to Perugia, Italy in 1977, where he continues to live and work, Whisson ceased to paint on composition board and instead began to paint on linen. The resultant change of support corresponded to a new approach in which thin brushed lines replaced larger flat passages of paint whereby the white primed support was often left unadorned to allow for an airier, lighter spatial quality in his work.
There is always a time-based or temporal aspect to Whisson’s works which are often produced from memories. As seen from the river (15/7/09 & 20/7/09 & 30/7/11) was painted on three separate dates over a period of two years which brings an experiential dimension to the process and begs the following questions: How has the artist changed in the intervening time? How has the landscape itself altered? How does his memory and recollection shift and alter the imagery? This approach lends a restless, provisional quality to the composition whereby the sense of perspective and spatial relationships seem to shift and slide in a state of flux. The artist once stated that ‘painting takes place at the point where the brush touches the canvas’ and this is evident in the agile and sketchy quality of his mark making which intuitively walks the line between abstraction and figuration, whereby the picture plane at once evokes a landscape – water, reeds, trees and other man-made structures – while also becoming a field for formal experimentation. The directness and immediacy of Whisson’s approach results in works in which any final resolution or tangible conclusion slips through the viewer’s grasp and instead we are presented with a series of subjective observations on the landscape and notations on the nature of relativity.
- Glenn Barkley and Lesley Harding, ‘Sometimes a madhouse sometimes a palace: Thinking about the art of Ken Whisson’ in Ken Whisson: as if, Bulleen, Victoria: Heide Museum of Modern Art; Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2012, p. 24.
- Ken Whisson, ‘Talk 1994: Technique and intuition’ in Ken Whisson: Paintings 1947-1999, Melbourne: Niagara Publishing, 2001, p. 144.