Brett Whiteley

Topics: Art, Modernism, Art critic Pages: 17 (6037 words) Published: March 15, 2013

Brett Whiteley was born in April of 1939 in Sydney’s north shore. From a very young age his drawing talent became noticeable and he won his first art prize at the age of seven. He was born into a middle class family and his parents appreciated the arts and encouraged Whiteley to continue his interest in drawing and painting.

In 1948, Whiteley attended the prestigious Scots Collage boarding school in Bathurst. Whiteley spent a part of his teenage hood at the boarding school but dropped out in 1954 to work in advertising. He also attended a night drawing class at the Ashton Art school in Sydney. At the age of sixteen, Whiteley’s passion and appreciation of art was firmly established. He discovered a book on Van Gogh and recorded the experience; “I picked up the book and studied it – it completely changed my way of seeing. The immediate effect was a heightening of reality in that everything I looked at took on an intensity . . . I remember having this very, very powerful sense that my destiny was to completely give myself to painting”. The young Brett Whiteley felt a strong connection to the art world which was of a very serious nature and mature for his age.

In 1959, Whiteley left advertising to concentrate on painting. That year he won the Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship and began travelling to places such as Naples, London and Paris. By the end of the 1960’s, Whiteley had become widely known as one of the leading Australian artists and was renowned for leading the Avant Garde movement.

Whitely had a deep interest in painting beauty which is expressed in his works. He had the ability to capture the emotions of the life experiences of himself and other people. He was fascinated in painting his perceptions of the world in a very surreal and abstract manner. This can be seen in the works; “Christie” (1965), “Art, Life and the Other Thing” (1978) and “Wendy” (1984).

The influence of drugs and alcohol heavily impacts his life and art making practice. Many of his artworks encompass aspects of his addiction that took control of his mind. The combination of a passion for beauty and addiction led to the creation of some of his most famous masterpieces. These works intrigued the public and led to Whiteley gaining a reputation as one of the most celebrated artists of Australia.


Brett Whiteley incorporates aspects of the structural frame in the works “Art, Life and the other thing” and “Christie”. Whiteley evidently has a strong use of the elements of design which is expressed through the technical composition of the works.

The work is a self-portrait presented in the form of triptych; each panel reveals a different persona within himself. Each panel holds the same colour scheme which represents a wholesome view of Whiteley’s nature. The work shows Whiteley’s personality in different states. The panel to the left represents Whiteley as a wolf that seems to be out of control. There are symbols of a cigarette and syringe which alludes to his drug addiction. The middle panel is the largest and portrays Whiteley’s link to the art word as an image of himself as a painter. The size and placement of this panel is representing the importance of painting as the centre of his life. This panel shows a contrast by pairing a well known traditional form of art evident through the inclusion of William Dobell’s controversial portrait with a modernised abstract figure. The third panel is a physical self-portrait photograph of Whiteley himself looking quite normal.

The work is initially very unbalanced as it is a form of asymmetrical triptych with each panel a different size. However, Whiteley cleverly disguises the balance within the work by rebalancing it through the warm colour palette and image repetition. The colour scheme is repeated with warm colours of an overall light orange with areas of darker tones. Each persona has been painted with similar colours which it represents a...

Bibliography: Internet Sites
[Art Gallery of NSW - Brett Whiteley Studio] (1992 - to present) Brett Whiteley Studio [Internet] Sydney [Publisher Unknown]
[Caroline Jones] (2004) ABC News - Australian Story [Internet] Location Unknown [ABC News]
* [Tony Thomas] (2010) Escape Into Life ... [Internet] England [Publisher Unknown]
* Robinson / Pearce, B / B, (2005) Brett Whiteley Art and Life. United Kingdom. Thames and Hudson Ltd.

Sutherland, Kathy, (2010) Brett Whiteley - A Sensual Line 1957 - 67. Australia. Macmillan Art Publishing.
[YouTube] (1972) Youtube - GTK: Brett Whiteley [Internet] Location Unknown [Publisher Unknown]
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