Brett Whiteley 1932-1992
Brett Whiteley was a modernist abstract artist who loved to paint Sydney Harbour and the areas around which he lived most of his life. While in London in the 1960s he was influenced by British artists painting in a similar style. He painted several series on bathing, animals at the zoo, and works covering his fascination with the murderer John Christie who had become notorious for his crimes in the area where Whiteley lived.
Whiteley moved to New York in the late 60s having won a scholarship to study art there. He lived in Hotel Chelsea where he began friendships with Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan and was later very influenced by the peace movement. He spent time with friends Mark Knopfler and John Illsley from the band ‘Dire Straits’ and his work ‘Alchemy’ painted in 1972-73 was featured on the cover of their live album of the same name.
The years in New York were also the time that Whiteley began experimenting with alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. He wanted to produce works that reflected ideas that he believed came more readily from his subconscious when he was under the influence of the substances. On occasions he took too much and was even hospitalized twice for alcohol poisoning.
In the late 1970s Whiteley won prestigious Australian art prizes the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman several times. In 1978 he won all three in the same year which had never been achieved before or since.
In his later years, Whiteley became very dependent on drugs and alcohol including heroin, despite several efforts to give them up. He continued to paint scenes of Sydney Harbour and areas close to Sydney, but in 1992, he was found dead from an accidental methadone overdose in a hotel north of Wollongong.
Whiteley was extremely prolific over his relatively short lifetime, producing a multitude of landscapes, portraiture, still-lifes, and interior scenes.