Skip to main content

Visual Art: Brett Whiteley

Online resources supporting the learning and teaching of the Visual Arts

Self portrait, ink on linen (1972)

Brett Whiteley fades away, charcoal on linen

Remembering Lao Tse (shaving off a second) (1967)

Whiteley quotes

+ The quest is the transmutation of Self.

+ A painting is a record of the extremely intensified moments of life – where more than one space, two senses of time, more than the law even seems at work, where the emotional forces seem to be propelling one to a dangerous limit, where reason and explanations become too enfeebled or too speeded-up to matter.

+ When I'm not fidgeting with infinity, I'm just fidgeting.

+ I am interested in beauty which can best be described as being on time for the appointment.

+ I love the stoniness and creaminess, that wonderful soiled magnolia feeling. Paris is so sensual, beautiful, flirtatious, mischievous, arrogant, orderly, so civilized. They call Paris a whore because she seduces you on every corner, and every street I turned, I could see another picture.

+ Drawing is the art of being able to leave an accurate record of the experience of what one isn't, of what one doesn't know. A great drawer is either confirming beautifully what is commonplace or probing authoritatively the unknown.

+ Art should astonish, transmute, transfix. One must work at the tissue between truth and paranoia.


+ The most fundamental reason one paints is in order to see.


+ Never trust an art dealer who'll sit in a room for more than ten minutes with a crooked picture.


+ I can't stand mindless purity - I have soaked myself in skepticism and am by nature magnetized to bitterness.


+ Everyone reaches a point in their life where they must either change or cease.

+ I was intrigued and enormously drawn to extremism by people who had blown their lives or who had taken their lives outside the normal conventions of society.

+ Art is the thrilling spark that beats death - thats all.

+ Everything is such a sort of stoned state... I walk around with a bunch of violets in my hand and a sledgehammer and a grain of sand in my head. I am happy.

+ The fine art of painting, which is the bastard of alchemy, always has been and always will be, a game. The rules of the game are quite simple: in a given arena, on as many psychic fronts as the talent allows, one must visually describe, the center of the meaning of existence. (Source)

Brett Whiteley's art

As one of Australia's most venerated painters, Sydney-born Brett Whiteley (1939-1992) garnered considerable acclaim both at home and abroad. His unique and avant-garde perspective of the Australian landscape has endeared him to the Australian public. His style is one of the most easily identifiable amongst the uninitiated. As a young painter, he famously drew inspiration from Lloyd Rees' work, particularly his paintings of Sydney Harbour. Between 1976-1978, Whiteley won each of the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne prizes twice. He traveled extensively, working in London, New York and Fiji. While in London he married Wendy Julius and they had their only child Arkie (1964-2001), whose acting career was cut short by cancer. He always credited his wife Wendy Whiteley as being his muse although they divorced in 1989. In 1991 he was awarded the Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday honours. He became increasingly dependant on alcohol and addicted to heroin and in 1992 was found dead in a motel room in Thirroul, north of Wollongong. (Source)

See more examples of Whiteley's art here.

Self portrait (1970)

Subject guide created by

contact Tania Sheko