Ken Whisson

Car and Driver, 1974
oil on composition board
81.5 x 104.5 cm
signed ‘Whisson’ (upper left) and titled and dated ‘March 8TH 1974/ Painted/ K. Whisson/ 'Car And Driver' (on the reverse)

View extended notes

19th & 20th Century Fine Australian and International Art, Deutscher~Menzies, Melbourne, 28 November 2001, Lot No. 73
Private collection, Melbourne
Private collection, Sydney

‘The difficulty of giving any simple verbal account of ‘how’ the forms and planes in a Whisson painting sit in relation to one another, underscores the complex mode of ‘seeing’ involved in their rendering. It is a kind of visualizing that loses everything in translation. It claims a level of compressed mental attention and simultaneity of awareness, such as poetry does over prose.’ (Bernice Murphy, ‘Ken Whisson Paintings, 1957 – 1985’, The Broken Hill Art Gallery, 1985, p. 14

'Car and Driver' is an important image painted by Whisson, whilst living in St. Kilda during the early-mid 1970s. Playing with images of cars, boats on the bay, the esplanade and the general hustle and bustle of this cosmopolitan suburb, images from this time have been drawn from memory regularly, reappearing in Whisson’s work over the decades.

Of course this is a recognisable landscape vignette – painted in Whisson’s own combination of linear and graphic abstraction – where the sense of foreground, middle and background is not clearly defined. Instead, single point and topographic perspectives coalesce and trailing yellow and black lines seem to represent a ‘stream of consciousness’ running throughout.

This is an image of ceaseless movement, in which we find motifs roving across the scene. Clouds, shapes and colours all describe the heightened experience of a sun-drenched drive. Just as one wouldn’t expect Whisson’s driver to have a static experience of motoring through a landscape, one can’t expect Whisson’s expression of the subject to be static.

  • Car and Driver

View artist profile

Ken Whisson was born in Lilydale, Victoria, in 1927. After attending Swinbourne Technical College from 1944-1945, Whisson studied under the tutelage of leading Melbourne expressionist painter Danilla Vassilieff from 1945-1946. Whisson's intuitive sketches incorporate a combination of symbols, images and abstract marks to convey an imaginative interpretation of the artist's experiences and understanding of the physical and metaphysical world.

Widely regarded as one of the most important Australian painters of his generation, Whisson has lived in Perugia, Italy since 1977, but has continued to exhibit regularly in Australia. In 1987 Whisson was awarded the prestigious Visual Arts Board Emeritus Award for substantial contribution to Australian Art, and his work is held in collections around the world including the British Museum, London and the Chartwell Collection, New Zealand, in addition to all major Australian public museums. Whisson is represented by Watters Gallery, Sydney and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne.

In 2012 The Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney and Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne jointly mounted a major retrospective of the artist's work. 'As If' traced the evolution of Whisson's career over sixty years. The exhibition was accompanied by a monograph with essays by Glenn Barkley (MCA) and Lesley Harding (Heide Museum of Modern Art).