Skip to content

Update from the Gallery regarding COVID-19

The Art Gallery of New South Wales is open. We are observing strict physical distancing and hygiene measures to protect the health of visitors and staff and minimise the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Read the latest visit information




Australian art

View More:


Totem I (black - the get laid totem)



Brett Whiteley

Australia, England

07 Apr 1939 - 15 Jun 1992


"Sculpture is totemic, phallic, something that grows upwards from the earth or from the gallery floor." Brett Whiteley

As a young boy, Whiteley was fascinated with bird's eggs and nests, often collecting them and persuading others to collect for him as well. The egg - a recurring element in his work - is traditionally a symbol of fertility. Brancusi considered it the perfect form. Whiteley has evoked a sense of celebration by exaggerating size and scale to create this fantasy totem. He was also fascinated by the traditional burial poles of northern Australian aborigines which he saw at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. In them he saw a sense of growing upwards from the ground.

A different vision, Brett Whiteley Studio exhibition catalogue, 1998


Other Titles

Totem 1

The get laid totem

Black Totem Egg



Media category


Materials used

fibreglass and wood


284.5 x 170.2 x 61.0 cm

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Purchased by the New South Wales State Government 1994, transferred to the Gallery 1998

Accession number


Artist information

Brett Whiteley

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 11 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Robert Gray, Art and Australia (Vol. 24, No. 2), 'A few takes on Brett Whiteley', pg. 216-224, Sydney, Summer 1986, 223 (illus.).

Janet Hawley, Good Weekend Magazine, 'Still life', pg. 18-24, Sydney, 02 Jul 1994, 21 (colour illus., detail), 22. titled 'Black Totem Egg'

Barbara Konkolowicz., A different vision, 'A different vision', Sydney, 1998, (illus.). titled 'The get laid totem'

Humphrey McQueen, Art and Australia (Vol. 17, No. 1), 'Brett Whiteley', pg. 45-52, Sydney, Sep 1979, 50 (illus.).

Barry Pearce, Brett Whiteley Art & Life, 'Birds & landscapes', pg. 196-223, 235, London, 1995, 205 (colour illus.). plate no. 143(b)