Ken Rasmussen Artist – Up Close & Personal

A lifetime of artistic pursuit, Ken Rasmussen’s artworks have evolved to be a celebration of life in a myriad of jubilant colours and surface textures . Viewers enjoy the rich conversations and playful, illustrative stories expressed on canvas. Ken’s artworks bring forth special memories of time and place yet with new perspectives to ponder and enjoy. We invite you to get to know the artist in our Up Close & Personal Q&A feature below.

Enjoy getting to know Ken Rasmussen

When did you first feel the desire to be artistic and realize you had talent?

I’m fifteen, and I’m coming home from school on the train. It’s winter, so it’s already dark. I had this feeling come over me. I suddenly knew I wanted to be an artist. It wasn’t just a thought or a possibility. I felt completely certain. A reassuring sense of warmth swept over me as I sat there looking out the window. Just recently, I Googled the word epiphany. I read that experiences aren’t considered a true epiphany unless there is also a warm sensation. That moment was my epiphany.

Where did you learn your art?

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t draw. My parents respected and encouraged my childhood passion. My father kept me supplied with pencils and paper. Beyond my closest relationships, art is all I’ve ever cared about.

I met a young art teacher called Rob Malcolm. He couldn’t have been many years older than me when he turned up at the Art Department at Scotch College. He showed me a number 12 Windsor and Newton Kolinsky Sable watercolour brush. They are special brushes made from the tip of the tail of the Siberian marten. It comes to an exquisite point and has an amazing capacity to hold paint. The brushes were, and still are, extremely expensive professional painters tools that I’d only read about. Rob had bought one and he showed it to me. It was thrilling to have the chance to see such a high-quality piece of equipment. Here was someone who was practically involved in the mechanics of producing art sharing their joy with me. I felt inspired.

After school, I studied law for a short time and then transferred to art school. My Dad took my paintings to Joan Longley at Ric’s Gallery in Dalkeith. He arranged for my first exhibition.

What inspires you the most?

It’s wonderful to watch studio visitors respond to my artwork. Sometimes I can see that the colours are making them feel certain emotions. This gives me a wonderful feeling that I can’t articulate. At that moment, I’d love to say, “The colours are working for you, aren’t they?” Instead, I try not to intrude. I stay quiet and feel maybe this painting is a success. I wonder if other people feel like that sometimes? You stay quiet. But on the inside, you’re feeling so very pleased with how your efforts have turned out.

What message are you sending to the viewer of your art?

I’m drawn to things that have life and engagement. I enjoy passionate colours and playful interesting perspectives. Art for me is a celebration of life. I think it is wonderful when art speaks to you and I just love the rich conversation that often follows. If there is a message in my work it is wanting people to look at where they live with fresh eyes and renewed enjoyment.

Describe your studio

In the last few years, I’ve built a studio in the backyard of my home in East Fremantle. It has floor to ceiling sliding panels on the back wall so I can hang works side by side. It’s very helpful to have space like this to sit with the paintings together. It gives me time to reflect. Each work is the stepping stone to the next. The art itself sets my direction by gently suggesting how I might move forward. You never get things right the first time. It is important to come back and look at your work, learn from it and grow. I’m so passionate about space. Artists thrive on good space. Space and materials and practice are the building blocks for art. Storage space is a wonderful resource for artists – good storage means that you can keep on generating work.

Describe your typical day of creating art

I’m not an early riser so I’ll arrive in the studio around mid-morning. I’ll break for lunch. Then I usually work until the cat, Bonkers, starts to make a fuss that it’s his dinner time. That is usually just on sunset.

What mediums do you use and why?

Over a lifetime of painting and experimenting, I tend to use a handful of base colours – three yellows, two violets, one red, two greens, two blues and a brown. I buy my base colours from the Winsor and Newton range. In particular, I like to use the quick-drying Gryphon Alkyds because of a particular syrupy density that suits being put onto the roller and the palette knife. I usually paint on linen.

What are you working on now?

I’m enjoying working on playful perspectives of Perth, Rottnest, Fremantle and places in the South West. They are maps of places I love to visit and I’m sharing that. It’s really fun watching people recognise places that mean a lot to them.

What are your recent career achievements you feel proud of?

A few years ago I made a decision to let go of the style of landscape painting I’d been successfully using for most of my career. I decided to experiment with perspective and texture. I allowed myself to be more playful in how I approached subjects. I challenged myself to an artistic adventure of sorts. Looking back I really didn’t know how people would respond. I’m proud that I took that risk because it’s worked out well for me.

What do you love most about what you do?

I love the problem solving part most of all. There is always something to work out. This might be getting a colour right or capturing the right light. When I look at a work I’ve just finished I can see the problems I’m keen to solve in the next painting.

Where can you see yourself in 10 years time?

In ten years I imagine I’ll still be working in my studio for most of the time. Perhaps I’ll spend more time down in the South West. Maybe there will be grandchildren to enjoy and that will be fun. I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to travel again with my wife Simone. She’d love that.

Surface Texture

Ken’s painting style involves multiple stages:

  • each painting is sketched with a 2mm 6B mechanical pencil, on paper
  • the linen (or canvas) is prepared on its stretcher with a layer of moulding paste
  • the sketch is transferred onto the prepared linen/canvas
  • the design is developed by partially etching it into the moulding
  • the paint is applied and the painting is developed.

The surface texture effect is unobtrusive. When different incident light hits the surface, the effect can be quite dramatic. Clients who have their paintings hanging in areas that receive morning or late afternoon light report a significant change in the mood of the painting.

Shop Ken Rasmussen Paintings

Opening Speech By Tim Winton

Tim Winton opened Ken Rasmussen’s “Summer Breezes” exhibition in 1996. It was during this early part of Ken’s career that Tim Winton sub-leased studio space from him in West Perth for a period of time.

Here are some extracts from his speech in reference to Ken and his work.

“… Impervious to trends, a resister of cliches, he tends to his own personal vision with a resolute intensity that marks him out as stubbornly individual… This is a man who cares about places. Here is an artist who believes in craft. This is an artist who gives respect to the viewer. There’s no posturing here, no hostile puzzles, no cynical narcissism. What I particularly love about these paintings is their meditative calm. Looking at a dragonfly on a lily pad, a light-softened bend of the Margaret River, fiery rows of grapevines or the dreamy haze of mudflats, you have the sense of being a lone observer. It’s like the sacred sense you have of being the first awake or the last asleep. You prowl alone through the house in the quiet and stand on the veranda and see the strange freshness of the world.

Familiar, but freshly made, as if for you. There is a kind of longing in the works … that comes from this calm solitude, this feeling of sweet loneliness. The Germans have a word for it: sehnsucht. A mixture of longing, melancholy, awe, and joy. A kind of sacred feeling…

Go back to the dragon fly on the lilypad and all the patient renderings of light… The dawn light on Rottnest ochre walls. These are things you want to see again, images that would do honour to your home and workplace. Why? Because, with time and craft and sheer doggedness, someone has rendered to things their due esteem…”