oil, charcoal, dried reed, eucalypt branch, rubber snake, taxidermied Scaly-breastedLorikeet, collage and plaster on plywood
203 x 324.5 cm
Gift of Eva Besen AO and Marc Besen AO
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008, TarraWarra Museum of Art collection
Contact TarraWarra Museum of ArtCopyright
While largely self-taught, Brett Whiteley attended life-drawing classes at both the National Art School and the Julian Ashton Art School in Sydney in the late 1950s.
At just twenty years of age he won a scholarship, judged by Russell Drysdale, at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, which enabled him to travel to Europe. Success arrived early following exhibitions in London at the Whitechapel and Marlborough galleries when the prestigious Tate Gallery purchased his work. Following two years residing in New York and several months in Fiji, Whiteley returned to Sydney in 1969, settling in Lavender Bay with his wife Wendy and young daughter Arkie. His return to Australia resulted in some of his most memorable landscape paintings.
In 1974 Whiteley completed the large scale painting/assemblage Australia (1970-74), in which he presents a vision of this continent that is familiar to all who live here. The densely populated cityscape of Sydney precariously clings to the coastline, whilst beyond the tangle of sprawling eucalyptus branches which divides the composition, the vast ‘Red Centre’ teems with native wildlife. It is difficult to determine whether the artist intends this to be an epic portrait of contemporary Australia or if it is an ironic combination of a series of clichés found in any tourist brochure, replete with images of Bondi Beach, the Opera House, gum trees and kangaroos. Is Whiteley making a statement about the vacuity and artificial nature of lives eked out in the chaos and clutter of a sprawling metropolis, an existence which is now far removed from the ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’ Australia represented by the desert interior? Or has he created a work that overtly expresses the irresolvable tensions that continue to endure in this country between the lure and romance of the mythical ‘outback’ and the daily, more prosaic realities of urban life?