Kathie Sutherland: Brett Whiteley

The mercurial Whiteley, flaws and all

Vivien Gaston


Brett Whiteley: A Sensual Line 1957–67
by Kathie Sutherland
Macmillan Art Publishing, $130 hb, 342 pp, 9781921394379


What to do with Whiteley? Forget the gutsy audacity and visual energy; in Bernard Smith’s estimation he was ‘egocentric, pseudo-profound and self-pitying’ (Australian Painting 1788–2000). Smith could not abide Whiteley’s ‘incapacity for detachment’; his cult of personality, poured into every last crevice of his work. With the hegemony of the social and theoretical construction of art, the actual person of the artist has been an increasing problem for art critics. Whiteley’s work, driven by personality and fuelled by sensation, is easily viewed as a romantic indulgence.

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Published in November 2010, no. 326

Vivien Gaston

Vivien Gaston is an art historian, curator, and writer. She has published on subjects ranging from sixteenth-century Italian painting to eighteenth-, nineteenth-, and twentieth-century British and Australian portraits. She has curated two major exhibitions The Naked Face: self-portraits (National Gallery of Victoria, 2011) and Controversy: the power of art (Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, 2012). A third exhibition, Sublime Sea: rapture and reality, is forthcoming in 2019. She has been a lecturer in art history at the University of Melbourne and Monash University and is currently a Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne.

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