I have recently been spending a bit of time with a medical professional who has a reproduction of this painting in her rooms.
Brett Whiteley needs no introduction to most Australians, being one of the most successful, award winning and prolific artists of the 20th century.
This Archibald Prize winning 'Self Portrait' was painted in 1974. That is the artist in the mirror. Through the window to the left is his beloved Sydney Harbour and in the foreground a distorted odalisque in the manner of Matisse. I could look at this painting for hours and hours. Brett Whitely died, alone, of a heroin overdose in a motel near Woolongong in 1992 at the age of 53. He flies in the fact of my visual artists live long lives theory.
He said 'art is an argument between what a thing looks like and what it means'.
Here he is in the 1960s with his wife Wendy and their only daughter Arkie:
Arkie was a beautiful woman, creative and gentle. She is famous for appearing as an actress in Mad Max, and for zealously guarding her father's legacy. She died of adrenal cancer in 2001 at the age of 37. I remember seeing a story about her in one of my mother's Australian Vogues in the early 80's with a feature on her completely white and pastel apartment in London. White and shabby chic long before everyone else started doing it.
The only one left in this little family was Wendy Whiteley. She said this:
“you can go two ways with grief. I could have given up and slid into an abyss of depression, or become suicidal…..I just felt an overwhelming desire to do something positive…doing something creative, right here, would be the most freeing thing I could do”.
So Wendy created a garden at Lavender Bay in Sydney. She planned and designed it and has cared for it for years now. The garden is not hers, it is on public land. But it is known to locals as Wendy's Secret Garden.
The garden was overgrown and unkempt and filled with old railway parts and carriages. This tree is a Moreton Bay fig, a wonderful climbing tree which is prolific in Sydney. Willy wagtails, kookaburras and parrots chirp and chatter away whilst magical bendy paths go hither and thither. This is secret Sydney at its best. Surrounded by high rise buildings, a little place of peace.
How wonderful is her positive and creative approach to the vicissitudes and tragedies which life has thrown her way?
(Images: (1) Gallery of NSW (2) John Tranter.com (3) The Age (4)(5) Galeriaaniela.com.au)