Brett Whiteley: A Unique Approach to Printmaking

BRETT WHITELEY (1939-1992)
Lavender Bay in the Rain 1987, lithograph, ed. 8/75, 101 x 74.5cm, $15,000-20,000
© Wendy Whiteley/Copyright Agency, 2022

Australian artist Brett Whiteley (1939 – 1992) was at the height of his career in the 1970s, when he dominated the country’s art scene. 1976 began in a burst of publicity as he won the 1976 Archibald and Sir John Sulman portraiture awards, and in 1977 the landscape Wynne award. In 1978, he won all three again. This period of success saw Whiteley transcend through mediums and stylistic forms, whilst also descending into a heroin addiction to where he produced some of his most renowned and highly praised pieces.

Becoming accustomed to multiple mediums, his printmaking career extended from 1961 – 1992 working across various established print studios and with printmakers around the world. Whiteley’s first introduction to serious printmaking was in 1961 at Kelpra Studios, London, where he explored a body of works, ‘The London Zoo Series’.

‘…This was the first time that I really took printmaking and especially silk screen really seriously. It was more than just a way of bleeding gouaches, it was the first time I conceived in series, where each print would confirm or contradict the image before it, and also it offered the challenge of seeing just what was possible using screen with photography and colour…’

Whiteley was an extremely talented printmaker who utilised a unique medium approach that combined both traditional printmaking techniques and his own vision. His works focus on the exploration of form and line, combined with an experimental use of colour and varied printing techniques. A celebration of the nude female body is one of the artist’s most persistent themes. Lithography for the sensual line of the nude accentuates the flattening of the perspective that he so admired. His series of eight lithographs ‘Towards Sculpture’ 1977 beautifully exhibits these elements and encapsulates the intimate beauty and poetic undertones he was so known for.

In 1970, Brett and Wendy Whiteley moved into their Lavender Bay home. The view from the studio was breathtaking and acts as the primary viewpoint from which he recorded the many moods of the Sydney Harbour throughout his career. His screenprint ‘Lavender Bay in the Rain’ 1984 was created with the alignment, drawing inspiration, and the title from his 1974 oil work. The similarity across both mediums is uncanny; the soft hues of colour across both works create a calming and poetic form. The screenprint holds strong and sensual line work with natural beauty and a modern touch from his 1974 painting.

Although Brett Whiteley’s life was shortened in 1992, he was able to achieve a lasting body of work that elevates him beyond his fame as an Australian artist. Even to this day, his print oeuvre is seen as some of the most inspiring examples of contemporary print making.

Leonard Joel is delighted to be presenting a vast collection of prints by Brett Whiteley spanning across lithography, screenprinting, and etching in our forthcoming April Prints and Multiples auction.

HANNAH RYAN / Art Specialist

Banner Image: BRETT WHITELEY (1939-1992) Figure on an Orange Background 1961, screenprint, ed. 74/75, 66 x 50cm, $4,500-6,500
© Wendy Whiteley/Copyright Agency, 2022

March 2023