Friday, April 27, 2012

Brett Whiteley holds court

Harry Kent, Brett Whiteley holds court, acrylic on masonite, 73x87cm

'Brett did have a genius. A genius for self promotion ... That's what his great genius was for --- creating the myth of Brett Whiteley'.  [Jeff Makin]

'His great talent was for painting but it was not enough. It was never enough. He needed total attention'.  [David Millikan]

James Gleeson wrote of Bett's 'aesthetic integrity being swamped by showmanship'. 'He is an actor masquerading in a cultural charade'.

It was all theatre, the white BMW with BW numberplates, the red camellias he placed under the wipers, the black or white costumes, the sad-eyed addicted wife ... People loved the white suits and the rag-top BMW. They loved the bare bottoms on the beach, the auto-erotic touch, the idea of the artist as an act ... He was mobbed by schoolchildren, recognised wherever he went'. [Hilton & Blundell]

'From early on he was taken up by the glitterati, shallow people who responded. Then came the money-making exercise. It was pretty sad'. [Frank Watters]

all quotes from Hilton, M. & Blundell, G., Whiteley: An unauthorised life, Macmillan: Australia.


  1. That does sound like a sad life, Harry. At first, the fun, the attention; and then what? Where is the substance if it's all Reality TV? And why do we watch such garbage - as if our lives are so boring if we aren't feuding with someone, cheating on someone, or purchasing way beyond our means? I think that's why I find my solace in nature - it is real. Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Yes Rhonda, it was a complicated and frenetic life that progressively sank into isolation and ended sadly. What fascinates me about it is that it raises so many issues for artists to think about, including how commercial success can erode the substance of one's work and the danger of slick style substitute for honest searching.

      Indeed, where is the substance if one's life is an act, a charade to win approval and adulation?

      However, that is not the whole Brett Whaiteley story. There is also the story of his gift and the great works it produced. And the story of how a man's art can become iconic for a young nation.

  2. Very interesting quotes Harry, makes me for searching more information about him. When doubting my art i dream about being succesful as an artist, whatever that may be. But on the other hand i think i can consider myself lucky for not being succesful, because it can break the magic. Hmmmm yes, lots of thoughts, double thoughts and dreams.
    The painting is awesome, i 'wow'ed when seeing it. Beautiful!

    1. Thanks for the encouraging comment, Monica. I'm having such huge doubts about my work recently. It all feels like rubbish and a waste of time. Makes it difficult to keep going.

      As for Brett, I maybe it's a matter of why an artist seeks success. To say something serious about the human condition? To leave a legacy to be remembered by? Fame and the fawning of the public that comes with it? To attract chicks? To receive affirmation as a person? To receive adulation? To make a living?

      I guess in Brett's case it was all of these. He loved the fame - played the role of romantic artist, recognized in the streets, best seats in cafes. He was insanely promiscuous with young women attracted by his personal charm and his fame. He made a good income stream.

      But the dark side was he needed the income for heroin and he compulsively needed the adulation as a substitue for love to fill an inner void - both a recipe for disaster.

  3. The artist wants and needs to make money with their art, but every artist must remember that he is nothing more than a workman of art, a worker like so many other workers in different areas, but when the artist begins to feel that their person is more important than the art he makes, not right!
    The personal fame can not overshadow the value of your work!
    When the artist loses his humility, his art loses quality.
    Words of Picasso:
    I paint for myself first, I do not care if others like it or not!
    I like the way that Harry performs his work!
    Congratulations on this beautiful work!

  4. An interesting point, Paulo.I certainly agree - the work must come first.

    Though Michelangelo and Caravaggio were not renowned for their humility, exactly at a time when society believed that the artist was simply a skilled craftsman. I think their pride came from a conviction that their art conveyed something profound about the human spirit.

    When you believe you have been given a great gift it becomes easier to believe that you are a special person. And like many rock stars, when your talent brings you wealth and fame, it becomes easy to get lost in self-indulgence. Therein lies Brett's tragedy ... and his humanity.

  5. Un lavoro interessantissimo. Molto personale. Elvi

  6. Fantástico retrato¡