Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley, AO (7 April 1939 15 June 1992) was an Australian artist. He is represented in the collections of all the large Australian galleries, and was twice winner of the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes. He held many exhibitions, and lived and painted in Australia as well as Italy, England, Fiji and the United States.
In 1967 Whiteley won a Harkness Fellowship Scholarship to study and work in New York. He met other artists and musicians while he lived at the Hotel Chelsea, where he befriended musicians Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. His first impression of New York was shown in the painting First sensation of New York City, which showed streets with fast moving vehicles, street signs, hot dog vendors, and tall buildings. The Hotel Chelsea displayed several of Whiteley's paintings from the time he lived there, including Portrait of New York which was hung behind the reception desk.
Part of his work Alchemy (197273) was featured on the cover of the Dire Straits live album Alchemy although it had the addition of a guitar with lips held by a hand. Alchemy is the mythical ancient process of turning ordinary compounds into gold. The original painting, done between 1972 and 1973 was composed of many different elements and on 18 wood panels 203 cm 1615 cm 9 cm. Reading from left to right, it begins with an exploding sun from a portrait of Yukio Mishima that Whiteley had started but never completed. The famed author Mishima had committed seppuku in 1970 and the literary mythology that arose of his apparent final vision of enlightenment in the form of the exploding sun, as he pressed the knife into his body, inspired and became the basis for this work. In terms of media, it used everything from feathers and part of a bird's nest to a glass eye, as well as shell pieces, plugs and brain in a work that becomes a transmutation of sexual organic landscapes and mindscapes. It has been regarded as a self-portrait, a giant outpouring of energy and ideas brought forth over a long period of time. According to art writer Bruce James, the self-conscious inclusion of the austere pronoun 'IT' that also makes up part of the work compacts life, passion, death and faith in a single empowering word and unites the notional wings of an altarpiece to nascent addiction.
Whiteley became increasingly dependent on alcohol and also became addicted to heroin. His work was not always being praised by critics, although its market value continued to climb. He made several attempts to dry out and get off drugs completely, all ultimately unsuccessful. In 1989, he and Wendy, whom he had always credited as his 'muse', divorced. He began a relationship with Janice Spencer, with whom he travelled to Japan, among other countries. He also spent time with friends including Mark Knopfler and John Illsley from the band Dire Straits.
In August 2018, Opera Australia announced that it had commissioned an opera to be based on the life of Brett Whiteley. The music will be written by Elena Kats-Chernin, with a libretto by Justin Fleming. David Freeman will direct and Tahu Matheson will conduct. Ashleigh Wilson, author of Whiteley's biography, is a consultant on the work. It will be staged at the Sydney Opera House in July 2019.