32. BRETT WHITELEY
‘Of all the subjects Whiteley painted in his career, landscape gave him the greatest sense of release.’1 From a young age, Brett Whiteley had a deep understanding and perception of the Australian landscape, which began in 1948 when his parents, Clem and Beryl Whiteley, enrolled their nine-year-old son as a boarder at The Scots School in Bathurst. The experience of boarding school was a traumatic one for Whiteley and something for which he never forgave his parents. While his dislike of the drab food and the teachers endured, he developed a love for the local landscape and the seasonal changes which made him feel close to nature, a feeling that one did not get living in the city.
Approaching Storm depicts the rolling hills of the central west area around Bathurst and Blayney where Brett’s sister, Frannie Hopkirk, and her partner, Bob lived. Brett would visit there often and found solace in the familiarity of the surrounding landscape. Brett became what Frannie called ‘the chronologist of the golden paddocks, sensual hills and willow strewn rivers of the Central West.‘2 The present work depicts the landscape in its most verdant state – vibrant and green from plenty of rain. The gently curving hillside dotted with trees and boulders is characteristic of the countryside of this most picturesque area. Looming over the scene is a dark raincloud, spouting rain on the paddock below. Despite the grey sky, the work has an overall freshness to it – Whiteley’s use of green here brings a vibrancy to the work. The artist has given the white boulders texture by applying layers of paint, creating a slightly three dimensional effect. Whiteley was well-known for his use of collage and playing with media – the effect he has created here adds depth to the composition.
The unique beauty of the Central West would continue to draw Whiteley back throughout his life: whenever he needed an infusion of inspiration, this is where he would find it. Whiteley had a true depth of understanding for the seasonal colours that would transform the trees and valleys, the light that would illuminate the paddocks during summer and cast long shadows across the plains throughout winter.
In 1991 Brett Whiteley was appointed Officer of the Order of Australia - this award recognised the immense contribution the artist had made to the history of Australian art. The incredibly vast body of work produced by Whiteley demonstrates the depth of his artistic ability but also his ambition and desire to achieve success and acceptance as an artist. The last few years of Whiteley’s life saw him produce some of his best landscapes, according to Barry Pearce, ‘In pure landscape genre particularly, Whiteley reached the most intense level of ecstasy it seemed conceivable, and even then yearned to go beyond’.3
1. Pearce, B. Brett Whiteley: 9 Shades, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p.5
2. Hopkirk, F., Brett Whiteley 1958 – 1989, Orange Regional Gallery, 14 April – 13 May 1990, exhibition catalogue p.7
3. Pearce, B. Brett Whiteley: 9 Shades, exhibition catalogue, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p.7
Caroline Jones MArtAdmin.