Ken Searle

Ken is the school’s Artist in Residence – a position he shares with writer Nadia Wheatley.

A self-taught artist, in the mid 1970s Ken Searle began regularly exhibiting works at Watters Gallery in East Sydney, where he has held 17 solo exhibitions. He has also had solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Adelaide, Geelong and Ballarat, and has participated in more than 100 group exhibitions. Examples of his work can be viewed on the Watters Gallery website.

Searle is best known for his large paintings in oil on canvas, depicting the suburban and industrial areas of a number of Australian cities. As well, he has painted the landscapes of the Western Desert and of the southern coastline.

Ken Searle's paintings are held in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of NSW, and many regional galleries and private collections.

For the past 15 years Ken Searle has also worked as illustrator and designer of a number of innovative non-fiction picture books with Indigenous and environmental themes.

Searle’s experience as a designer and book illustrator began when he and author Nadia Wheatley were working as consultants at the school at Papunya (an Aboriginal community in the Western Desert, Northern Territory). While assisting the Anangu staff and students to develop resources for the Indigenous curriculum that the school had developed, Ken designed and helped illustrate the Papunya School Book of Country and History – a collaborative account of the history of this internationally-famous Western Desert community, told from an Indigenous perspective. Acknowledged as a groundbreaking work in terms of both its visual and written text, the book won a number of awards, including the Eve Pownall Award for Information Books in the 2002 Children's Book Council of Australia Awards, and the History for Young People section of the NSW Premier's History Awards for 2002.

Searle was also the designer of When I was Little, Like You (Allen & Unwin, 2003), a picture book by Papunya author/illustrator Mary Malbunka, with whom Ken worked as mentor for long periods, both in Alice Springs and at his Sydney home.

In regard to Walking With the Seasons in Kakadu, Ken Searle was the illustrator as well as designer. The text, by environmentalist and teacher Diane Lucas, reflects the many years she spent working with Indigenous people in the Kakadu area. As research for the illustrations, Ken explored the flood plain of Kakadu – gathering plant specimens, taking photographs and sketching the landscape. In 2004 this picture book was shortlisted for the Australian Award for Excellence in Educational Publishing.

The picture book, Going Bush, was the result of another unique collaboration. In 2005 Ken Searle and Nadia Wheatley ran an innovative environmental education project with 16 children from Muslim, Catholic and state schools in Sydney’s south-west. The poetry and art of the students is showcased in this book, alongside Ken’s own artwork and an environmental text by Nadia Wheatley. Going Bush won the Wilderness Society Picture Book Award in 2007 and was shortlisted for the Human Rights Award for a non-fiction book.

Ken Searle’s most recent work as an illustrator and designer can be seen in Playground. Compiled by Nadia Wheatley with the support of Indigenous consultant Dr Jackie Huggins, this sumptuous book presents the voices of more than 100 Aboriginal Elders and young people talking about their experiences of growing up and learning.

Major awards and commissions

  • Shortlisted, Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards, 2012
  • Kedumba Drawing Award, 2011
  • Adelaide Perry Drawing Prize, 2009
  • New South Wales Parliament House, Commission, 2005
  • Ballarat University and Ballarat City Council, Commission, 1997
  • Visual Arts Board Overseas Studio: Besozzo, 1984

Selected publications

Books illustrated and/or designed

  • Wheatley, N (2011). Playground, [illustration and design], Allen & Unwin.
  • Wheatley, N (2007). Going Bush, [illustrations and design], Allen & Unwin.
  • Lucas D. (2003). Walking with the Seasons in Kakadu, [illustrations and design], Allen & Unwin.
  • Malbunka M. (2003). When I was Little, Like You, [design], Allen & Unwin.
  • Wheatley N and Papunya School (2001). Papunya School Book of Country and History, [design and some illustrations], Allen & Unwin.
  • Wheatley N (1993). Lucy in the Leap Year, [illustrations], Omnibus.

Current projects

  • Growing Up in Australia, written by Nadia Wheatley, due for publication by Allen & Unwin in 2013.