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December 11, 2019

Brett Whiteley Australian Artist

by NancyElin

  • Author: Ashleigh Wilson
  • Title: Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing
  • Genre: biography
  • Reading time:  13 hours 25 min (audio book)
  • Published: 2017
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly plan
  • Trivia: #ABIA 2017  short list (Australian Book Industry Awards)
  • @ashleighbwilson
  • @artgalleryofNSW
  • @ABIAs_Awards



  1. Of all the Australian painters who emerged during the mid
  2. 20th century Brett Whiteley  was the (Wikipedia link for more info)
  3. most mercurial, the most ambitious
  4. to make an impact on the world at large.
  5. I had NEVER heard of Brett Whiteley
  6. …and realize it was my loss.
  7. Delighted to discover this brilliant
  8. biography by Ashleigh Wilson.


Brett Whitely:

  1. Born in Australia, Whiteley moved to Europe in 1960 determined to make an impression.
  2. Before long he was the youngest artist to have work acquired by the Tate.
  3. With his wife, Wendy (1941), and daughter, Arkie (1964-2001), Whiteley
  4. then immersed himself in bohemian New York.
  5. Despite many affairs…Brett proclaims that
  6. he and his wife Wendy “We’re lifers.”
  7. His art depended on his relationship to Wendy.
  8. It had been that way since his early abstractions.


Ashleigh Wilson:

  1. He has been a journalist for almost two decades.
  2. He received a Walkley Award for his reports on unethical behavior
  3. in the Aboriginal art industry, a series that led to a Senate inquiry.
  4. He has been The Australian’s Arts Editor since 2011.
  5. Wilson follows the chronological order of Whiteley’s paintings:
  6. Early works
    Bathroom series (sensual sketches of Wendy)
    John Christie (serial killer)  & London Zoo
    Lavender Bay, Australia
    The studio & late works



  1. Brett Whiteley (1939 – 1992)
  2. died from a drug overdose.
  3. He was an heroin addict.
  4. The deeper problem was that his
  5. dependency was entwined with his art.
  6. Like many addicts he found it hard to imagine life sober.
  7. Heroin provided stability...
  8. …and to live without it was like to peering into darkness.
  9. It was one thing to be clean for his health
  10. …but what would it mean for his art?
  11. He was found dead at the Beach Motel, Thirroul Australia.
  12. This expansive biography
  13. Wilson gave the essential details about the death.  (ch 22)
  14. Chapters 1-21 concentrate on the
  15. …richness and variety of Whiteley’s work
  16. …and the many exhibitions he held and  prizes won.
  17. #ExcellentBiography
  18. Worth your reading time!


Strong point:

  1. Ashleigh Wilson Wilson takes the reader through a
  2. virtual art gallery describing and assortiment
  3. …of Brett Whiteley’s paintings.


Portrait of Patrick White (Brett Whiteley)

  1. Photo in frame….Emmanuel George “Manoly” Lascaris
  2. Look at White’s eyes and
  3. ….Centennial Park in the backround.


Portrait Vincent van Gogh

  1. On the table….a candle, a pipe, a letter to Theo and a razor.
  2. Two arrows:
  3. towards the right = good, light and sanity
  4. towards the left = evil, darkness and madness

Portrait of Gauguin

  1. Gaughin on the eve of his attempted suicide
  2. We see ‘The Tree of Knowledge, photograph of Van Gogh and a woman’s body.
  3. Brett had extended the right side to an ear shape with a bottle with a white substance
  4. labled ‘Arsenic’.

Portrait Wendy (wife)

  1. Brett Whiteley was a master draughtsman.
  2. This sketch reveals his command of line.
  3. The way Brett could capture the essence of his
  4. subject with only a few simple sweeps.


Henri’s Armchair

  1. This is Brett Whiteley’s debt to Matisse.
  2. He painted the interior of Lavender Bay where the
  3. …water can be seen through the window
  4. …frame at the end of the room beyond the arches.
  5. It is a domestic workmanlike scene.
  6. Two legs  on the couch and used matches
  7. …are scattered on the coffee table.
  8. There is a vase and notebook on which is written the title of the painting.
  9. As in the works of his historical model, Matisse,
  10. ….there are notes of domesticity:
  11. bed, open fire, and several works of Whiteley in the room
  12. …a sculpture, a nude drawing and an erotic drawing.
  13. There is a deep red brown color in the house
  14. …but the blue is all around.


My Armchair

  1. This was the most expensive painting in Brett’s
  2. September 1976 Australian Galleries exhibition.
  3. This painting’s was priced for 10.000 dollars.
  4. This was a companion piece for “Henri’s Armchair”.
  5. The blue soaked canvas inside Brett’s studio including
  6. pictures (B/W = ‘Inside an Avocado Tree’), sculptures
  7. …a view out to the Sydney Harbour and the chair in which
  8. …he sat to reflect on the art around him.



Another way of Looking….Vincent

  1. Whiteley pays homage to Vincent van Gogh and
  2. …the profound influence this Dutch post-impressionist
  3. painter had on Whiteley throughout his career.


  1. I had to include some of the most beautiful sketches/paintings of birds!
  2. Whiteley first came to notice the captivating beauty of birds
  3. …in July 1969 during a blissful five-month stay in a small cottage
  4. in the village of Navutulevu, about eighty kilometres from Suva in Fiji.
  5. The couple, with their five year-old daughter Arkie,
  6. lived simply and happily and enjoyed their
  7. island paradise after the turmoil and bustle of New York.
  8. Wendy Whiteley summed the period up well: ‘We really did live in Paradise there.”







The sunrise, Japanese: Good morning




Bookcover: (self-portrait)

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