Brett Whiteley Self portrait in the studio 1976 (detail) © Wendy Whiteley
Portraiture for Whiteley was an insight into the psychology of the human condition.
There are critically acclaimed self-portraits, such as Self-portrait in the studio 1976 and Art, life and the other thing 1978, both of which won the prestigious Archibald Prize. Here the artist reveals layers of himself and defines portraiture as something beyond the physical to include his environment, personal and artistic influences, good and bad. Incredibly honest, his works on this subject cover the range of human emotion and pay homage to a legacy of artists and writers whom he admired – Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud and Henri Matisse.
Whiteley’s most ambitious attempt at portraiture is the 18-panelled work titled Alchemy 1972–73. Exploring dualities – love and hate, life and death, order and chaos, potential and opportunities lived and lost – it is a fascinating journey into addiction, the perceptions of identity, and the celebration of human experiences as well as the fears.