Born in Monto, Queensland in 1955, of Anglo-Celtic and Aboriginal ancestry, Gordon Bennett grew up in Victoria from the age of four, when his family moved back to Queensland, to the town of Nambour. He attended high school in Brisbane, attending Brisbane State High School. He left school at fifteen and worked in a variety of trades before undertaking formal art studies at the Queensland College of Art, Brisbane between 1986 and 1988. Some of his work is about what he saw when he was young. His 1991 painting Nine Ricochets won the prestigious Moët & Chandon Australian Art Fellowship, and he rapidly established himself as a leading figure in the Australian art world. He lived and worked in Brisbane, where he created paintings, prints and worked in multi-media.
Growing up, Bennett was surrounded and confronted by images of Aboriginal Australians inflicting harm on others or being violent in some form of the word.
Bennett expressed his discomfort with being seen as spokesman for Aboriginal peoples, and in a manifesto (or ‘manifest toe’ as he calls it) published in 1996 he spoke of his wish “to avoid banal containment as a professional Aborigine, which both misrepresents me and denies my upbringing and Scottish/English heritage,” while simultaneously expressing his wish that his young daughter could grow up in a society where her life would not be defined by her race. The confrontation of Australian racism is a regular theme in works by Bennett.
In 2004, Bennett, together with Peter Robinson, had a two-person exhibition Three Colours, which showed at several Victorian art galleries including Heide Museum of Modern Art, Shepparton Art Gallery, Bendigo Art Gallery and the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. In late 2007 he had a solo exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria, that set his works on colonialism in an international context.
Judith Ryan, senior curator from the National Gallery of Victoria in 2004 described Bennett as “an artist’s artist” and “like no other artist currently working”. Noting the influence of Jackson Pollock, Piet Mondrian and Basquiat, she considered Bennett’s style to be theoretical and confronting, and intended to encourage critical reflection on national identity.
Bennett is represented in most major public collections in Australia, including the Queensland Art Gallery, as well as in several important overseas collections.