Brett Whitely: a brief frames analysis Essay

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Used art as a method of expressive self-exploration. ‘I paint in order to see.’

His artworks moved from being political protests to being focussed on the not-so-quiet intimacies of his private life. “Politics, travel, social consciousness, self-analysis, philosophical speculation and youth took second place to one over-riding obsession – to paint pictures of beauty.” (Brett Whiteley, by Sandra McGrath, 1979)

Experimented with different, mind-altering drugs to influence his art-making.

Greatly influenced by Francis Bacon.

Towards the end of his career he moved to painting more still lifes, the more anti-social he became, the more interested he was in inanimate, inhuman objects.

His paintings often verged upon the sadly disturbing and deperate or outrageously humourous as his health declined + he became more demoralised. Where he once believed his paintings could change the world (eg. American Life), he tried to grapple with the contradictions in what he believed (ie. complete political restructure) + what he had become (a highly sought after + highly paid artist with a valuable house, swimming pool expensive car etc).

His paintings were designed to provoke a very strong emotional response from the viewer, either positive or negative.


Many of his artworks included images of sex, violence, social themes.

Interesting portrayal of Australian culture – not always positive, however, it is his paintings that depict Australia in a positive light – Australia as a beach paradise etc – that are most often glorified. These paintings, for example The Beach, were often misunderstood, as they were commenting on the materialistic/consumer nature of modern Australian society

Whiteley saw Australia as being in it’s political infancy, and believed that until Australia forged a more equal relationship with the rest of Asia, it would be doomed. He drove this point home through the use of Chinese calligraphy, slogans, provocative sculpture, poster art and often sensationalist press conferences.

Cultural significance of life drawing in the art world.

Was also influenced by his many overseas trips, notably India (Calcutta, Shankar + Fidgeting with Infinity) + England (The Christie series + the London Zoo series).

Many of his artworks depict a kind of East vs West theme.


Combined many different mediums.

Mostly did large-scale works – something I want to experiment with.

Used many different signs + symbols, sometimes overtly, sometimes not.

Very interesting use of space – often depicted bulging, distorted figures on large canvasses in the middle, or corner, surrounded by uninterrupted, negative space. (Many Eastern styles of art have a tendency to portray people as tiny details in the corner of a massive landscape.)

Usually used a limited colour range, often worked in white + black or one other colour.

Often skips narrative information + detail, more emphasis on forms, curves + swellings that hint toward vague details.

Much style dislocation – didn’t just paint in one style, but many, often within the same painting.


Despised the idea of tradition, suburbia, family values etc.

Very iconoclastic.

Liked to shock the rest of the art world, art critics etc.

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