K e n S e a r l e
I see my city paintings as maps and also as portraits. My aim is to portray place as well as the people who are part of that place. My method is to walk into a painting, letting the area itself shape the form and content of my portrayal. As I explore, I sketch on site — selecting material, editing, and composing as I look at things. Sometimes the on-site sketch will be the finished artwork but I usually return to the theme later in the studio and recompose the elements.
Ken Searle grew up around the Cooks River in southwest Sydney, where he still lives and works. A self-taught painter, he is best known for his large paintings in oil on canvas depicting industrial and suburban areas and the waterways that link the land and its people. These major compositions include Newtown (1978), Bowden/Brompton (1981), the West series (1991), North Geelong (1995), Ballarat (1998) and Newtown Revisited (1999). In recent years Searle’s work has had a particular focus on the natural and built environment of Botany Bay and the coastal area to the south, as shown in the exhibitions, Headland (2007) and Star Showers (2009).
Since the mid 1970s, Ken Searle has been represented by Watters Gallery, where he has had 19 solo exhibitions. He has also held solo exhibitions at a number of commercial galleries in Melbourne, and at various regional galleries.
His awards include the Kedumba Drawing Prize (2011), the Adelaide Perry Prize for Drawing (2009) and the Maude Vizard Wholohan Purchase Award (1980). Searle was in residence at the Visual Arts Board studio in Besozzo, Italy, in 1985 and was Artist-in-Residence and Honorary Associate in the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney in 2010.
Since 2001, Ken Searle has also worked as illustrator and designer of a number of innovative non-fiction picture books with Indigenous and environmental themes. These include the Papunya School Book of Country and History. This groundbreaking work, produced in collaboration with staff and students at Papunya School, won a Children’s Book Council of Australia Award (2002) and a NSW Premier’s History Award (2002). Other awards for books designed and illustrated by the artist include the Australian Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing (2002, 2007, 2012), the Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature (2007),and a Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission Award (2007).
Searle has mentored Indigenous artists Mary Malbunka (Pintupi from Papunya) and Alfred Lalara and Alice Durillo (Warnindilyakwa from Groote Eylandt) in the process of illustrating their bilingual picture books, which he designed for publishers Allen and Unwin.
His work is represented in the collections of the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide; the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; and the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, as well as the regional galleries of Ballarat and Geelong.
Ken Searle was elected a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute in 2016.