A painting is a record of the extremely intensified moments of life – where more than one space, two senses of time, more than the law even seems at work, where the emotional forces seem to be propelling one to a dangerous limit, where reason and explanations become too enfeebled or too speeded-up to matter.
Interior with time past is a bold, vibrant expression of Whiteley’s life. Against a lush orange background, he conjured up his studio at Lavender Bay, with its vast expansive view across Sydney Harbour. Into this space he scattered images of his own paintings and sculptures, and in the foreground he placed a still life with cherries, avocados and a vase of flowers. From the copulating couple in the drawing on the easel to the sparkling harbour view, to the cigarettes and smoke, he evoked his own seductive, sensuous life. He conveyed a taste of high summer, luxurious Sydney, the Pacific eden.
However, Whiteley was also interested in painterly matters. He was concerned with colour and with balancing large areas of colour against strongly linear elements. Interior with time past is an expression of Whiteley at peace with himself, in harmony with his environment, and lauded in the art community. (This painting was awarded the 1976 Sulman Prize.) He had returned to Sydney in 1969 after almost ten years in Europe and America. He turned from his earlier views of art as a reforming medium or as presenting the struggle between good and evil, and began to paint a series of sumptuous images. He described these as ‘points of optical ecstasy, where romanticism and optimism overshadow any form of menace or foreboding’.2
1Brett Whitley, ‘Notes and thoughts taken at random from the artist’s notebooks’, in Sandra McGrath, Brett Whitely, Sydney: Bay Books, 1979, pp.214-19 (p.216)
2McGrath, ibid., p.168.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002