Other Places (Somewhere Else) offers a rare opportunity to view intimate drawings and lyrical paintings completed during Whiteley`s extensive travels. Artworks created in response to locations such as Paris, New York, Japan, Fiji, Bali and Far North Queensland is highlighted. The exhibition is presented in partnership with the Art Gallery of New South Wales and the Brett Whiteley Studio; all works are loaned from these two institutions.
Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) is regarded as one of Australia’s most iconic artists and by the 1970s he was at the forefront of Australia’s avant-garde movement. During his lifetime he won many major prizes and awards and his work is represented in national and international galleries that include the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; Tate Gallery, London and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Whiteley was born in Sydney, and briefly participated in life drawing sketch classes at the Julian Ashton Art School while working at the Lintas advertising agency in his teenage years.
In 1959 he was awarded the Italian Government Travelling Art Scholarship, judged by Russell Drysdale. In February 1960 Whiteley arrived in Rome, and then moved to London in November of that year with a portfolio of drawings and paintings. During the early sixties Whiteley met many painters; including Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Roger Hilton and William Scott, alongside fellow Australians; Arthur Boyd, Lawrence Daws, John Passmore and Sidney Nolan.
During a brief trip to Paris in April 1960 Whiteley recorded a beautiful series of drawings in pen and ink of various places around the city and along the Seine. Two drawings selected for this exhibition, were in his mother`s collection and have never toured before. They are displayed with a selection of works from the late Paris series Regard de Cote 1990, created following Whiteley’s return to Paris at 50. Whiteley’s early works display his composition, gesture and style, and this emerges with great confidence and draughtsmanship in the late drawings where his expressive qualities are intrinsically part of his repertoire. Whiteley wanted to build a symphony of pencil, charcoal, ink, gouache, photography – this he achieved with a sense of beauty, vitality and love.
I first went to Paris at age 20, but was so obsessed with modernism and abstraction to paint it. Now with fresh eyes, I could respond figuratively and lyrically to the one ravishing subject – Paris and her cultural heroes. I love the stoniness and creaminess, that wonderful soiled magnolia feeling. Paris is so sensual, beautiful, flirtatious, mischievous, arrogant, orderly, civilised…
(Brett Whiteley, documentary Difficult Pleasure 1989)
During the early to mid 1960s Whiteley exhibited extensively in Australia and in England, France, Holland, Germany, Belgium and Italy before being awarded the Harkness Foundation Fellowship in 1967 that supported his travel to New York where he, his wife Wendy and their young daughter Arkie, lived for eighteen months in the Chelsea Hotel.
Whiteley found the energy of New York intoxicating but he also felt its destructiveness at a time of heightened social conflict and turbulence that included violent demonstrations against the Vietnam War, civil rights protests and the tragic and brutal assassinations in 1968 of Senator Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King. During this year and exhibited here for the first time are Pages from a sketchbook, New York 1967 a selection of drawings assembled together by the artist in a concertina format and the extraordinary and dynamic painting New York 1, 1968, which was loaned to the Chelsea Hotel for forty years.
Shortly after completing his vast and highly controversial 1968 painting The American Dream, Whiteley returned to Australia, via Fiji. In this tropical Pacific island, Whiteley found peace in his environment and in himself, and created the beautiful paintings Green Mountain (Fiji) and The Pink Heron in 1969.
On his return to Australia in 1970 the Whiteley family lived in Lavender Bay, Sydney and continued to travel broadly. Several trips to Bali were made during the eighties. Whiteley loved the Asian aesthetic in brush and ink drawings and this is evident in the Balinese works. Whiteley wanted to capture a subject in a beautifully brief and fresh manner.
In 1985 Whiteley bought a studio in Surry Hills, eventually moving in and living the last four years of his life there. Trips to Japan and Paris in 1989 were made with photographs, drawings and paintings created. He was prolific in recording his memories with a deftness of touch, great draughtsmanship and skill.
The exhibition has been curated by the Cairns Regional Gallery in partnership with the Brett Whiteley Studio (which is managed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales) and Wendy Whiteley.
His travels were extensive and Whiteley produced a beautiful range of works with great virtuosity, energy, lyricism, humour, sensitivity and an intense desire to document his unique vision and experiences.
Brett Whiteley Studio.
Image: Brett Whiteley, The green mountain (Fiji) 1969, oil, collage on cardboard, 137 x 122 cm board, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Gift of Patrick White 1979 © Wendy Whiteley. Photo: AGNSW.