An image of Art, life and the other thing

Brett Whiteley

(Australia, England 07 Apr 1939 – 15 Jun 1992)

Art, life and the other thing

Not on display
Further information

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

Painting, Photograph, Collage
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
Accession number
© Wendy Whiteley