Brett Whiteley: More Heat than Light?

‘Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions 31 August 2018 – 28 January 2019, NGV

Published in ‘Troublemag’ and ‘Jackdaw’

‘Evening coming on in Sydney Harbour’ 1975, Brett Whiteley

 

Prolific, intense and successful, Whiteley’s art and life have been difficult to separate. Twenty-six years after his untimely death, his work lives on as part of our present whilst his colourful life story fades into the fabric of history.  Baldessin/Whiteley: Parallel Visions at the National Gallery of Victoria (until 28.1.19) is a chance to reassess. Brett Whiteley and George Baldessin, printmaker of figurative expressionist etchings, were born in the same year but there is little else to tie them together and I will leave Baldessin to another time.

The Whiteley works span his entire oeuvre – from his 1956 travelling scholarship win and early abstracts to his late Sydney Harbour pictures, stopping by his London Christie works and his New York period on the way.

Painting by Brett Whiteley depicting the township of Sofala in a simplified and flattened composition.
‘Sofala’ 1958. Brett Whiteley

The earliest paintings – tentative, evocative, nuanced – are heavily influenced by Lloyd Rees and Russell Drysdale; the latter was the judge of Whiteley’s scholarship win. In Sofala (1958) earth-rich reds, warm greys and creams are woven into a flattened and simplified image of a country town. The horizon line sits up close to the top edge of the painting – we are immersed in a sparse domestic world clinging to life on a harsh but harmonious crimson land. Shades of Nolan, Drysdale and Tucker infuse Whiteley’s sensibility at this stage. His later rococo line is absent, pre-dated by the pared and scraped back forms more consistent with the drought and angst-stricken images of Australia that had begun to make such an impact on London, chiming, as they did with the mood of post war existentialism.

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The Humility of Hokusai

Hokusai

Woodblock print The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai
The Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai

One hundred and seventy-six elegant woodblock prints by Japanese nineteenth century artist Katsushika Hokusai are on display in Melbourne at the NGV. It’s a huge exhibition and a popular one. What is it about these images, from a culture aeons from mine in sensibility and almost two centuries in time that are so riveting? And why do they remind me of Turner, Freidrich and Cozens – those Northern European painters for whom landscape was a metaphor of transcendence? What could a Japanese printmaker have in common with a Romantic painterly sensibility?

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Lacking Doubt – David Hockney at the NGV

Image of Alexandra Sasse viewing David Hockney exhibition

David Hockney: Current

 National Gallery of Victoria 11th November 2016 – 13th March 2017

Image of display of printed digital drawings and two screens displaying work by David Hockney
A visitor checks her phone, surrounded by David Hockney’s digital drawings

Two mobile phones attached to a purple wall greet you at the entrance to this exhibition. Their screens are displaying images of David Hockney’s drawings done on a phone. My younger companion’s first reaction is not to the image but to the type of phone. Iphone not android she observes glancing and moving on.

Is this an exhibition about drawing, about Hockney or about technology? Or about advertising? Apple doesn’t seem to have its logo anywhere, but let’s face it; this exhibition is about one company’s product.  Is Apple getting all this endorsement for free?

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