Ken Whisson Essay

Published Wednesday, January 2, 2002

Whisson is an artist who explores the relationship between perception and the handling of material; these qualities are synthesised to create visual poetic narratives. Paramount to Whisson is the role of the artist's perception as being a dynamic operation, rather than the action of copying what is seen. His paintings can be seen as an integration of what is seen and felt and this is the critical inner logic of his art.

Image: Ghosts on the lake, The Guest House, 70 x 80cm; oil on linen; 1992, 1994, 1995-96

Ken Whisson - Ghosts on the lake, The Guest House

The artist I'm saying has to learn from the philosophers, but here the philosophers can learn and surely have learned, more fools to them if they haven't, I feel, from the artist. Because the problem for both surely is to find a new basis for metaphysics, for a transcendental world view, or to put it better a metaphysical world view, allows for, or whose rationality allows for, a sense of the full depth and breadth of experience. That allows for a reality of any possible breadth and depth at either end of the yardstick, at either end of the scale, the miraculous end or the horrifying end.
What I feel, surprising as it may seem, and it shouldn't seem surprising, I feel that all of this that I've said just now, should enter into, or one should do one's best to make it part of one's practice as an artist.
In fact all of it, all of it from beginning to end, all of what I've said right through. I do feel that it has a kind of continuity, hope that it does and in fact believe that it does.

The selection and treatment within his work are about self realisation in terms of his place in the world. His interest in Zen Buddhism, phenomenology and the principle writings of Husserl reflect his passion for resolving the divide between the psyche and spirit and how these ideas are transcribed in art.

In Whisson's paintings he attempts to revise the process of art making, asking for artists to reconsider their approach to technique and style. His work reflects this approach, attempting to reinvent the process of painting, suggesting a more personal and spiritual encounter.

His paintings offer a depiction of the world spirit, articulating the relationship of humanity with the world both in a physical and metaphysical existence. Amongst Whisson's subject matter are the big issues of self, absolutes and the unknowable. His painting like his philosophy is a blending of eastern and western beliefs. His paintings acknowledge the phenomena of what is 'knowable and experienced'; he attempts to make evident on the canvas what is unable to be comprehensively defined. His work goes beyond decorative concerns to demonstrate the concrete strength of abstraction to provide a serviceable language of expression that goes beyond what is offered in realism. His work presents the duality of the moment, the present moment depicted in the painting, and infinity, an ever-lasting impression of the subject matter. Historically the 20 and 21st century has been dominated by photography, however it is the essence of such painter as Whisson who is able to capture the spiritual in our existence, that which eludes current day technologies and discloses the media of a painting's ability to depict the grand and often invisible qualities of life.

By Craig Malyon

Questions on the Artist

  • Ken Whisson's paintings relate to personal experiences with the artist trying to articulate visually what cannot be described verbally. Discuss his work in terms of the subjective frame. Make reference to his personal philosophy to art and ideas.
  • What is metaphysics and how does it relate to Whisson's art?
  • Outline Whisson's approach to painting?
  • "I have a pretty good appetite for reality, that I have digested enough of reality to know that it has to be resisted, that this is the world surrounding us..." How does this statement relate to Whisson's practice as an abstract artist? Discuss.
  • Whisson was interested in capturing the ephemeral qualities of the world in his art. Make reference to at least one of his artworks from the Art Right Now 2 cd-rom and discuss his art making in response to the world.
  • Jackson Pollock, Phillip Guston and Ken Whisson sought to explore a world beyond what they saw. Examine how these three artists developed specific philosophies about the method of making art.

Artists Connections

Historical Contemporary
Jackson Pollock Anselm Kieffer
Brice Marden Dale Frank
Phillip Guston Brett Colquhun
Willem de Kooning Mike Parr
Adolph Gottlieb Kevin Connor
Ashille Gorky Jennifer Joseph
Andre Masson Judy Watson

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