Whiteley, directed by James Bogle, explores Brett Whiteley’s work through a chronological journey from Longueville in Sydney’s north, to London and New York and Sydney in the seventies and eighties.
Brett Whiteley was regarded as the enfant terrible of Australian art up until the time of his death in 1992.
Through a mashup of artfully edited interviews, photos, reconstructed scenes and home movies, Bogle shows the driving forces behind Whiteley’s art. The artist’s own words weave a story of dissatisfaction with dull suburban life in middle Australia and receiving an epiphany at a church service after finding a book on Van Gogh.
I wanted to shock. I wanted people to wake up.
For the romantics, because every artist needs a muse, the meeting with Wendy Julius, their relationship and subsequent marriage is covered in great detail. she was more than his muse; she was his minder and the mother of his only child, Arkie. Wendy is glorious—in a sixties flower child way. It is no fault of the filmmaker that I found myself wondering more about Wendy’s story and perspective, rather than Brett’s.
The scenes of Whiteley in the studio— a diminutive Harpo Marx figure, barefoot, sometimes bare-chested—slapping paint onto the canvas are wonderfully evocative. As are the home movies at their Whale Beach house with the sounds of cicadas in the background. Whiteley sums up the moment when all falls into place. “The whisper of the click is where you get the meaning.’
Whiteley’s art appears throughout the film, from early boyhood sketches to his masterpiece Alchemy, and a collection of works that displays his desire to challenge and shake up the art world. Footage of Whiteley in his Gasworks and Surry Hills studios show him creating and discussing his art with a young Robert Hughes in a cowboy hat.
This film is for both Whiteley fans and those interested in the process of making art. It presents a rare opportunity to get inside the mind of an artist drilling down on their creative processes. It is not a homage to the rock and roll lifestyle of the Whiteleys’, but a salute to a creator and examining the demons he faced.
Whiteley will be released Australia-wide on 11 May 2017.
Too much Whiteley is never enough…
For those interested in learning more about Brett Whiteley, it is possible to visit his studio in Surry Hills, Sydney. Wendy Whiteley’s garden in Lavender Bay, Sydney is a tranquil and evocative garden sanctuary and open to visitors.
Note: Parts of this blog post were published as a review of Whiteley for Weekend Notes