For the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Ken generously agreed to design a couple of huge scenic cloths that would drop from the roof during the opening ceremony. The first was the word “G’day” and the second was an outline sketch of the Harbour Bridge together with the word “Eternity” for which we used fireworks to outline the letters and the sketch. These two drops were in fact, literally the opening and closing curtains of the ceremony, from Nikki Webster dreaming on the beach through to the tap-dancing finale on a metal structure where Nikki was reunited with her aboriginal guide, Djakapurra Munyarrin. The whole ceremony was a journey through Australia’s history, from the birth of the continent through to modern-day Sydney where the industrial revolution has come to town and changed the land forever. The journey was led by two guides – a young, white girl and an older Aboriginal man. In our ceremony the two were reconciled, but in real-life Australia that outcome has not yet been fully achieved. Two years after the Sydney Olympics, I was visiting Australia and saw Bridge at the Done Gallery in the Rocks – and found that Ken had painted it in 1997, which made the work resonate even more strongly with me because Ken had given form to reconciliation well before most of the rest of us. The aboriginal man staring across a gulf of red to the multi-coloured man is an uneasy image: the separation sets up a tension between them that would be permanent if it wasn’t for the bridge that provides a link between them … a link that is there to be used if only one or other will take the first step. They seem to be talking, which is a good first step, but they could also be arguing … the horizontal alternating stripes of red and black flow past them like a river, reminding us that this is an ongoing discussion … the white peaks of the graphic between the two heads link the Opera House to the Kimberleys, and the red bridge is a conscious homage to aboriginal ‘dot’ painting and to Uluru, another of the great icons that both join and separate all Australians. The red, black and gold colours of the aboriginal flag is not only a poignant reminder of the disruption of peoples, but is juxtaposed with the coloured stripes of multi-cultural man, who was responsible for that disruption. It also embodies the hope that this young multi-cultural country is responding to the calls of Aboriginal Australians to take back native title to their original dreaming sites, and in fact that the bridge of reconciliation is more than a simple graphic.
I lived in Mexico City for a couple of years and this painting was hung beneath a skylight that made the colours so intense they seemed to vibrate. The painting is now in Los Angeles and once again it is hung beneath a skylight where it commands the space. I believe it is a very important painting on many levels: Ken is a master of graphic design which gives him an unusual ability to communicate visually, directly and clearly. His aesthetic and technical painting skills have combined many strands of two different cultures and offered an artist’s solution to reconciliation – if only we’re ready to use it.