Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) was a brilliant artist whose paintings reflect deep sensuality, cheeky wit, fierce intelligence and harrowing introspection. His vision still inspires awe in me: it was grand, such as with Alchemy (1972-1973), and it was raw and intimate, such as with Towards Sculpture 3 (1977). Whiteley was fascinated by nature (see Summer at Carcoar, 1977), and animals (especially birds). He readily paid hommage to his favourite artists, such as Gaugin (1968), Francis Bacon (1971), and Van Gogh. Whiteley proclaimed:

The fine art of painting, which is the bastard of alchemy, always has been always will be, a game. The rules of the game are quite simple: in a given arena, on as many psychic fronts as the talent allows, one must visually describe, the centre of the meaning of existense.

On the sensuality of his work, Whiteley said:

I know that in my work there is a certain sensuality, a sexuality. There is a sort of addiction to the curve, to the carnal, to the rounded, even to lust almost. I see sensuality, sexuality, everywhere: in clouds, in mountains, in fruit… and seemingly most of human motivation is caused by it. It’s a very very deep force… I try as overtly as possible to allow that force to key my painting.
– from Don Featherstone’s documentary film A Difficult Pleasure, 1989.


Here’s the quote from his masterpiece above, Remembering Laotse.

Remembering Laotse …….

He is to be made to dwindle (in power)
Must first be caused to expand
He who is to be weakened
Must first be made strong
He who is paid to be low
Must first be exalted to power
He who is to be taken away from
Must first be given
This is the subtle light
Gentleness overcomes strength
Fish should be left in the deep pool
And sharp weapons of state should be left where none can see them!!!

The Brett Whiteley Studio is my second-favourite gallery (after Heide). I’ve been there many times and I spend hours marvelling at Whiteley’s majestic vision. Even the Australian government acknowledges that Brett Whiteley ’is one of Australia’s most revered artists’.


1) Brett Whiteley (1967) Remembering Laotse (Shaving off a second).

2) Brett Whiteley (1976) Self Portrait in the Studio.

3) Brett Whiteley (1984) Portrait of Wendy.

3) Photograph of Brett Whiteley in his studio, c. 1970s.