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Brett WHITELEY, Interior with time past REDUCE 1/1


ON DISPLAY
LVL 2

Australian Art
Social Comment & Hard Edged Abstraction gallery

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Brett WHITELEY

Longueville, New South Wales, Australia 1939 – Thirroul, New South Wales, Australia 1992

  • Movements: England, S. Europe, N. Africa, USA, Pacific Islands 1960-69

Interior with time past 1976 oil, charcoal and ink on canvas oil, charcoal and ink on canvas
182.0 h x 200.0 w cm
Purchased 1978
Accession No: NGA 79.795
This work appears on the screen courtesy of the estate of Brett Whiteley

  • Interior with time past gives us a glimpse into the private world of Brett Whiteley. The setting is his studio at Lavender Bay, with its expansive views across Sydney Harbour. Into this space he has included images of his own drawings and sculptures and, in the foreground, a still life with cherries, avocados and a vase of flowers. From the drawing on the easel of the couple making love, to the sparkling harbour view, to the still-burning cigarettes, Whiteley evokes a sensuous world of pleasure. Yet, like all still lifes, Interior with time past reminds us that these are all transient moments to be enjoyed, that soon the fruit and flowers will wither, the cigarette will be extinguished, and the lithe young lovers will grow old and die.

    Whiteley shot to prominence as a young artist in 1961 when the Tate Gallery in London purchased one of his paintings—making him the youngest artist ever represented in its collection. He spent many years travelling and living overseas before returning permanently to Sydney in 1969. Considered the enfant terrible of Australian art, Whiteley was a prodigiously talented draughtsman and one of Australia’s most successful artists until his premature death in 1992.


    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

  • 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.
    Brett Whiteley1

    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

    Anne Gray

    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