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> Brett Whiteley in his London studio at the age of 26
> Whiteleys London Years Laid Bare
> Debut exhibition for formative Whiteley paintings
Brett Whiteley (1939 - 1992) was born in Sydney in 1939. Whiteley is considered one of Australia's most prolific, talented and expressionistic artists who achieved public acclaim early in his career. He started drawing and painting from an early age and produced major works such as, Sofala, 1956 and The Soup Kitchen, 1958. In 1960, Whiteley moved to London. It was a time when Australian art was rising in popularity through the public appraisal of paintings by Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Russell Drysdale.
Whiteley was included in a group show at Whitechapel Gallery, London, 'Survey of Recent Australian Painting' and his painting Untitled Red Painting was bought by the Tate Gallery. This made Whiteley the youngest artist to have ever been acquired by the Tate. Whiteley was inspired to paint many of his observations while working in London that transpired to the Christie Series, the London Zoo Series and the beginning of his bathrooms and bathers. Whiteley was an avid researcher for detail and the Christie Series in particular signify a fascination with the macabre. John Christie was a serial killer who lured woman to his home only to gas them to death and then rape the corpse. Whiteley spent many hours researching newspapers and case files to then create the series of photographs, screen prints and large mixed media paintings.
In 1967 Whiteley won a scholarship to study and work in New York. Here he was influenced by the monumental scale pictures produced by Abstract Expressionists such as Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, as well as the lyrics of American songwriter Bob Dylan. The next year he began work on The American Dream, an epic mixed media painting arranged in 18 panels that spanned over 20 metres in width; taking over one year to complete. The American Dream, represents Whiteley's attempt to fuse art, politics and sociology and to show the America's a saner course of action in response to the devastations of the Vietnam war. Many of the ideas from The American Dream may have come from Whiteley's experiences with drugs and alcohol. During this time, like many others, Whiteley experimented with drugs as a way of bringing the ideas from his subconscious.
After a brief sojourn in the tropics of Fiji, Whiteley returned to Sydney where he produced many views of Sydney Harbour and the interiors of his studio in Lavender Bay. Around this same time, he also began to produce prints and ink drawings of palm trees that surrounded his home.
In 1976 Brett Whiteley began to work with a new theme - still life, an area that would produce probably some of his most beautiful works. In one sense, still life was a natural development from the interiors, but in another it reflected a growing anti-social tendency. In seclusion he realised that still life Ö was a traditional area of painting that has not really been tackled by contemporary artists. 'The still life thing only became real the more I wanted to be alone Ö It was the furthest thing from humans - inanimate objects.' Reference: Sandra McGrath, 'Brett Whiteley', Bay Books, Sydney, 1979, p.185.
In the later years of his life, Whiteley became increasingly dependent on alcohol and then became addicted to heroin. The volume of work that he produced began to decline, although the market value for paintings continued to climb. He made several attempts to dry out and get off drugs completely, all ultimately unsuccessful. On June 15, 1992 Brett Whiteley died of a heroin overdose. His body was found in a motel in Thirroul, just north of Wollongong, New South Wales.
Savill Galleries has supported the work of Brett Whiteley for the past two decades. The gallery will consider the purchase of authentic Brett Whiteley paintings, drawings and prints held in public or private collections.