Art, life and the other thing
07 Apr 1939 - 15 Jun 1992
When Brett Whiteley and his family arrived back in Sydney permanently at the end of 1969 after a decade abroad, his reputation with illicit drugs preceded him spectacularly. Seven years later his controversial ‘Self-portrait in the studio’, which was awarded the Archibald Prize for 1976, was at once the image of an expansive life on the shores of Lavender Bay, and symbolic of a cage of serious heroin addiction within which Whiteley had found himself, and that would bring about his eventual demise.
Australian Art Department, AGNSW, 2008
Two years on Whiteley entered another controversial self-portrait into the Archibald - ‘Art, life and the other thing’ - and it too made an immediate impact. That year he got the trifecta, awarded all three prizes including the Wynne and Sulman. However now, his self-portrait was a far more bold, almost grotesque confessional, an elongated image of himself referencing the infamous debate over William Dobell’s Archibald-winning portrait of Joshua Smith of 1943, flanked on one side by a simian beast howling with anguish as a ghostly hand delivers it a syringe, and on the other a photograph of the artist looking serenely normal.
Unlike ‘Self-portrait in the studio, critics were divided about ‘Art, life and the other thing’, perhaps because of its sheer sensationalism, and lack of subtlety of the earlier work. Almost too brutally honest, it seemed like the final flaring of a dying star. Many who were close to Whiteley, then aged thirty-nine, felt sure he would not survive beyond forty. However he did survive for another fourteen years, finally succumbing fatally to his addiction in a motel room at Thirroul on the south coast of New South Wales in 1992.
This painting won the Archibald Prize in 1978 and was acquired by the Gallery in 1998
oil, photograph and mixed media on board
triptych: left panel 91.9 x 79.6 x 7.8 cm; centre panel 211.8 x 130.6 x 8.0 cm; right panel 31.2 x 31.2 x 7.3 cm :
a - left panel, 90.4 x 77.2 cm
b - centre panel, 230 x 122 cm
c - right panel, 31.1 x 31.1 cm
Signature & date
Signed and dated l.r. centre panel, black ink "brett Whiteley 78". Signed verso, black oil on masking tape "BRETT WHITELEY".
Purchased by the New South Wales State Government 1994, transferred to the Gallery 1998
Not on display
© Wendy Whiteley
Shown in 13 exhibitions
Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes for 1978, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 16 Dec 1978–29 Jan 1979
Brett Whiteley: van Gogh self portraits, Greenhill Galleries, 27 Jan 1987–22 Feb 1987
Self Portraits and Other Intimacies, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 16 Sep 1995–19 Nov 1995
Brett Whiteley Art & Life (1995-1996):
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 16 Sep 1995–19 Nov 1995
- Museum and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory, Darwin 13 Dec 1995–28 Jan 1996
- Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth 22 Feb 1996–08 Apr 1996
- Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide 09 May 1996–16 Jun 1996
- Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney 02 Jul 1996–26 Aug 1996
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart 18 Sep 1996–17 Nov 1996
Inaugural permanent display, National Portrait Gallery [Old Parliament House], Canberra, 04 Mar 1999–04 Mar 2000
Whiteley with words (2000), The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 08 Apr 2000–16 Jul 2000
Australian icons: twenty artists from the collection, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 04 Aug 2000–03 Dec 2000
Whiteley Himself and Friends, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 06 Dec 2003–11 Apr 2004
Great collections (2009):
- Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown 12 Dec 2008–18 Jan 2009
- Tweed Regional Gallery & Margaret Olley Art Centre, Murwillumbah 06 Feb 2009–15 Mar 2009
- Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo 03 Apr 2009–10 May 2009
- Albury Regional Gallery, Albury 29 May 2009–05 Jul 2009
- Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat 24 Jul 2009–30 Aug 2009
Endlessnessism (2010-2011), The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 28 Aug 2010–03 Jul 2011
Brett Whiteley portraits, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 23 May 2014–28 Sep 2014
Alchemy-Pop, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 31 Oct 2014–31 May 2015
Tributes, The Brett Whiteley Studio, Surry Hills, 13 May 2016–13 Nov 2016
Referenced in 25 publications
Barry Pearce et al., Brett Whiteley education pack, 'Self-Portraits and Other Intimacies', Sydney, 1995, (colour illus.). card no. 9 in education pack
Peter Cochrane, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'Artist was the $1m man', pg. 17, Sydney, 17 Jun 1992, 17 (illus.).
David Evans and Elizabeth Fortescue., Daily telegraph mirror, 'Whiteley: The fatal flaw', Sydney, 17 Jun 1992, (illus., detail).
Alec George, Look, 'Whiteley's 'inner paddock', pg. 26, Sydney, Jun 2014, 26.
Janet Hawley, Good Weekend Magazine, 'Brett Whiteley: the art of the warrior', pg. 16-26, Sydney, 17 Feb 1990, 22.
Janet Hawley, Good Weekend Magazine, 'Still life', pg. 18-24, Sydney, 02 Jul 1994, 21 (colour illus.), 22.
Janet Hawley, Artists in conversation, 'Brett Whiteley', pg. 92-107, Richmond, 2012, 95.
Bruce James, Whiteley with words, 'Whiteley with words', pg.2-4, Sydney, 2000, 8.
John MacDonald, The Sydney Morning Herald, 'On our selection: a moonlit mix', pg. 16-17, Sydney, 21 Feb 2009-22 Feb 2009, 17. NOTE: Review of 'Great Collections' exhibition.
Barry Pearce, Brett Whiteley Art & Life, 'Persona and the painter', pg. 15-41, London, 1995, 38, 173 (colour illus.), 233. plate no. 114
Anna Waldmann, Art and Australia (Vol. 20, No. 2), 'The Archibald prize', pg. 213-236, Sydney, Summer 1982, 235 (colour illus.).
Frank Walker, Herald Sun, 'What lies beneath 95% of gallery's art collection hidden in basement', pg. 18, Port Melbourne, 30 Dec 2007, 18 (colour illus., detail).
Margherita Zanoletti, Literature and aesthetics: the journal of the Sydney Society of Literature and Aesthetics [vol 17, no 2], 'Figures of speech/ Figure retoriche: Verbal and Visual in Brett Whiteley', pg. 192-208, Sydney, Dec 2007, 192, 198, 199 (illus.), 200-206.
Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, 'Into the 1970s', pg. 63-87, Sydney, 1999, 78 (colour illus.), 136 (colour illus.).
Cambridge visual arts: stage 4, Cambridge, 2008, 122 (colour illus.).
Great collections, Sydney, 2008, 108 (colour illus.).
The Archibald Prize 1921-1993, Sydney, 1993, cover (colour illus.), 8 (colour illus.).
9 Shades of Whiteley, Sydney, 2008, 3.
Sotheby's Sydney: Important Australian Art (31 August 2010), Melbourne, 2010, 50. General reference to 1979 Robin Gibson exhibition
The Archibald Prize: an illustrated history 1921-1981, Sydney, 1981, 235 (colour illus.).
Archibald, Wynne & Sulman Prizes for 1978, Sydney, 1978, 5. Archibald Prize: cat.no. 36
Let's face it: the history of the Archibald Prize, ‘Chapter 4: Into the 1970s’, pg. 61-85, Sydney, 2005, 76 (colour illus.), 77, 146 (colour illus.).
William Dobell: portraits in context, 'Image of contention', pg. 10-20, Kent Town, 2003, 10.
Drugs: a social history, 'Intoxicated dreamers', 7-9, Glebe, 2003, 6 (colour illus.). Exhibition guide produced by the Justice & Police Museum for the exhibition 'Drugs: a social history', 25 October 2003 - 10 October 2003.
Red, black and Whiteley, North Ryde, 2000.