One of Australia’s most beloved and admired artists, Brett Whiteley was a remarkable avant-garde artist. Despite achieving success and celebrity status in his native Australia he also received acclaim worldwide. Today his paintings can be found in galleries in Canberra, London, and New York. Apart from indulging in painting Whiteley also worked extensively in sculpture and graphic arts. It is quite a shame that one of the most respected artists, Whiteley died at the age of 53 at the hands of a drug overdose. The art world lost a true genius that day. Whiteley was best known for his elegant and sensuous depictions of interiors, nudes and of course being the Australian that he way, fantastic harbor scenes. He was of the rare few artists to have won all three major awards in his life; the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes for his work. He went on to win the Wynne prize twice more – the only artist to do so.
Brett Whiteley was born on April 7, 1939 in Sydney, Australia and started drawing from a very early age. After attending boarding school, Whiteley started working as a commercial artist for an advertising agency in Australia. Parallel to this Whiteley was also taking evening art classes at the Julian Ashton Art School. After winning a scholarship for one of his earlier paintings Whiteley traveled to Italy where he was fully exposed to the works of some of the greatest European artists. Gradually Whiteley started gaining a name for himself due to which his work started getting showcased at galleries in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Munich. Despite being a hardcore Australian by heart Whiteley’s art and his career made him move around a lot. He ended up living in Fiji Islands, Italy, England and the United States for quite some time. It was due to his international acclaim and celebrity status that Whiteley first started indulging in experimental drugs, a habit which led to his eventual demise. There was a very strong connection in between Whiteley’s art and his drug addiction; it was almost as if one was always trying to overpower the other. At the end it was ultimately the addiction which won but Whiteley will always be remembered as that artist who the art world lost too soon and was still able to make a mark despite his career being cut short by the tragic overdose. Whiteley’s work was highly desired by collectors, particularly his landscapes of Australian harbor and street life. He was such a powerful Australian commodity that he was awarded with the Order of Australian in 1991, little did anyone know that it will only be another year before his untimely death.
It is very strange to comprehend that his absolute masterpiece, the Alchemy was crafted when Whiteley was deeply intoxicated and depressed. The vast painting is drawn in different gold elements of wood panels. The different elements Whiteley used in the painting included feathers, birds nest, glass, shells, plug pretty much anything and everything under the sun. Many art lovers state that it was Brett Whiteley’s severe addicted state which lead him to incorporate all these elements into the painting.