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Brett Whiteley: portraits

At the Brett Whiteley Studio

Brett Whiteley Self portrait in the studio 1976 (detail) © Wendy Whiteley

The exhibition Brett Whiteley: portraits presents over 40 works by Whiteley on display at the Brett Whiteley Studio, the artist’s former workplace and home in Surry Hills, now managed by the Art Gallery of New South Wales.

The exhibition provides a brutally honest insight into the psyche and inspirations of one of Australia’s greatest artists. Highlights of the show include Whiteley’s critically acclaimed self-portraits Self portrait in the studio 1976 and Art, life and the other thing 1978.

Self-portrait in the studio 1976 is recognised as a contemporary masterpiece and one of Whiteley’s most well known works, which won the 1976 Archibald Prize for portraiture – Australia’s favourite art award and one of its most prestigious. The work is a surreal depiction of everyday life as viewed from his then home in Lavender Bay on Sydney Harbour. Whiteley’s semblance is depicted only in the small hand-mirror. 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.

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 received the trifecta, awarded all three prizes including the Wynne (landscape) and Sulman (genre). 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 by a photograph of the artist looking serenely normal.

Brett Whiteley is an artist whose output addresses a wide range of human emotion. Tackling themes of addiction, imprisonment and self-reflection, his work is incredibly honest, covers the range of human emotion and pays homage to a legacy of artists and writers whom he admired – Francis Bacon, Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Rimbaud and Henri Matisse.

Another highlight of the exhibition is Whiteley’s most ambitious attempt at portraiture – the 18-panelled work titled Alchemy 1972–73. Regarded as a self portrait in its giant and personal outpouring of energy and ideas, the work explores 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.

This year’s Archibald Prize will open to the public from 19 July at the Art Gallery of New South Wales so there will be an opportunity to see both exhibitions.

For more information:

Free admission to the Brett Whiteley Studio is made possible by J.P. Morgan

J.P. Morgan

On view
23 May – 28 Sep 2014
Fri, Sat & Sun, 10am – 4pm

Brett Whiteley Studio
2 Raper Street
Surry Hills 2010, Sydney, Australia
Tel 02 9225 1744 or 02 9225 1881

Free admission made possible by J.P. Morgan

For education groups
Wed & Thu
Bookings required
Charges apply

Media contact

Lisa Catt
Tel 02 9225 1791
Mob 0431 509 978