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Brett Whiteley

Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing

Ashleigh Wilson

  • awardLonglisted, Walkley Book Award, 2016
  • awardLonglisted, Australian Book Industry Award, Biography of the Year, 2017
  • awardShortlisted, Australian Book Design Awards, Non-fiction, 2017
  • awardShortlisted, Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award, 2017
  • When he died in 1992 Brett Whiteley left behind decades of ceaseless activity—some works bound to a particular place or time, others that are masterpieces of light and line.

    Whiteley had arrived in Europe in 1960 determined to make an impression. Before long he was the youngest artist to have work acquired by the Tate. With his wife, Wendy, and daughter, Arkie, Whiteley then immersed himself in bohemian New York. But within two years he fled, having failed to break through.

    Back in Sydney, he soon became Australia’s most celebrated artist. He won the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman prizes in the same year—his prices soared, as did his fame. Among his friends were Francis Bacon and Patrick White, Billy Connolly and Dire Straits. Yet addiction was taking its toll: Whiteley struggled in vain to separate his talent from his disease, and an inglorious end approached.

    Written with unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, and handsomely illustrated with classic Whiteley artworks, rare notebook sketches and candid family photos, this dazzling biography reveals for the first time the full portrait of a mercurial artist.


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    Ashleigh Wilson
    About the Author

    Ashleigh Wilson has been a journalist for almost two decades. He began his career at theAustralian in Sydney before spending several years in Brisbane, covering everything from state politics to the Hollingworth crisis to indigenous affairs. He then moved north to become the paper’s Darwin correspondent, a posting bookended by the Falconio...

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    30 October 2017
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    Praise for Ashleigh Wilson
    andBrett Whiteley

    ‘Ashleigh Wilson has produced an intriguing, absorbing and assured account of Brett Whiteley’s life and work’.

    ‘With relentless precision, Ashleigh Wilson has provided a peerless grasp of the life and genius of Brett Whiteley. This storied journey of one of Australia’s most mercurial twentieth-century artists will be impossible for the reader to put aside until it is finished. It is the dispassionate biography Whiteley has long needed: a career clarified from the brilliant clouds of myth.’

    ‘A full-dress life of Whiteley that speeds and soars and never ceases to do homage to the colossal confrontation and contradiction the artist represents…Wilson has written that rarest of things, a 400-page biography that is hard to put down…[It] will make you weep for this exasperation of a man and hunger for his art.’

    ‘An essential and invaluable resource for any Whiteley scholar…Wilson’s achievement is considerable…Ashleigh Wilson’s Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing is a benchmark publication in Whiteley studies.’

    ‘[Wilson brings] his subject to life in a fast-paced, thrilling way…Clever selection of detail…An excellent biography.’

    ‘Ashleigh Wilson’s new telling of Whiteley is a remarkable exercise in sustained authorial discipline…Wilson has given Whiteley the biography he deserves. Accommodating, even forgiving on occasion, but never indulgent. Engaged and attentive, unaffectedly interested in the artist, but not uncritical.’

    ‘For those readers who delight in much of Whiteley’s best work, this book is essential reading…Neither hagiography nor hatchet job, Brett Whiteley: Art, Life and the Other Thing is a clear-eyed account of an artist whose output was vast, if uneven, and whose legacy looms large in the history of modern art. Ashleigh Wilson provides an object lesson in writing the life of an artist.’

    ‘A vivid portrait…Sturdy and diligently researched.’

    ‘A fast-paced, well-researched biography…Wilson traces the development of Whiteley’s practice with extraordinary detail, revealing how travel, social issues, music and drugs (particularly heroin) influenced his art…An absorbing and intimate biography of a passionate yet volatile artist.’

    ‘The pages fly by in a way that’s more reminiscent of a thriller than a comprehensive biography. You’ll be left breathless and exasperated by the life of this amazing artist.’

    ‘Wilson’s masterly biog captures an Aussie Icarus in full flight…It’s all there, and yet dealt with in a judicious manner rather than through a desire to sensationalise.’

    ‘This new book is an engrossing look at the life, artistic development and person behind the enfant terrible of the spotlight.’

    ‘A dense and absorbing chronology of the artist’s life.’

    ‘Ashleigh Wilson’s biography of Brett Whiteley is hard to put down. The narrative hums along beautifully, allowing readers a rare insight into Whiteley’s complex genius. A colossal undertaking, helped by extraordinary access. Wilson has delivered readers—and history—an absorbing, detailed and fascinating read.’

    ‘Unlikely to be surpassed for its richness of detail, cast of characters and sheer narrative drive—all achieved without a trace of novelistic flourish.’

    ‘Ashleigh Wilson methodically tracks this mercurial artist from early family days to his final years—a motley of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, and importantly, art.’

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