Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Brett Whiteley dances on water


Harry Kent, Brett Whiteley dances on water, oil on hardboard, 90x120

Brett Whiteley, to my imagination, was always associated with water:

... his paintings of Sydney Harbour with their oceans of Ultramarine, his celebrations of Lavender Bay where he lived overlooking the Harbour, his series on waves that reference Taoist philosophy and Japanese water paintings.

source savill.com.au
(Prophetically enough, i see in this weekend's The Weekend Australian Review that Savill Art Galleries is offering Whiteley's Seagull (1988) for sale - the painting featuring a large white breaking wave).

... but also his whole life. This was a life not so much writ on water as one of walking on water. Indeed, waltzing on water. He saw painting as riding a fluxus, the artist as one who who plumbs the unconscious to retrieve its pearls as images, arts culture as a pool of illusions and tricks, and fame a wave to be surfed.

... yet i am left with the sense that he was always secretly afraid of sinking.

The image i have created contains a touch of surrealism as homage to Whiteley, the Australian Surrealist. It contains an elbow from Salvador Dali, the Sorcerer's Apprentice from Fantasia (battling the odds of mad and mystic water), and Schubert's Erlkönig wooing us away.

The image is ambiguous. Is the figure a demonic and omnipotent magician conjuring the wave? Or is he being overwhelmed and drowned by the tsunami of fate? Is he pirouetting with glee before sublime immensity or is he defensively fleeing the overwhelming darkness?

BW wanted to believe enough in his giftedness to enable him to walk on water ...  to be superhuman, semi-divine, a mediator between Man and the Gods.

But in fact he was all too human.

Daedalus-like, quietly he sank one night in Thirroul.

But it was not defeat for i also see him dance Zorba's dance of triumph-amid-catastrophe in the deserts of the heartland.

source myopera.com

As i watch Zorba, i see Brett as Bob Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man
"to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow."

Ah, but we who remain have not forgotten.