Monday, February 23, 2009

Stylistic Aspirations: Brett Whiteley

I believe I vowed to do more posts about artists I like a long time ago and did one on R.S. Connett, who was a big influence in my highschool art days.

In the lead up to actually distributing FOWP and in preparation for my next to drawing exercises I thought I'd start throwing down artists that, even if you eventually look at my work to date you may find no hint of influence evident in the work, nevertheless I aspire to borrow bits and pieces from, or incorporate their work into my drawing exercises and what not.

First up, Brett Whiteley. I hate nationalism, and as an Australian this is why Brett Whiteley is important to me. Because as Bryce put's it (in reference to music) 'We should celebrate music because it is good, not because it is Australian'.

Brett Whiteley is world class. Perhaps in some respects a poor man's Pablo Picasso, but if you looked at any volume of his work you'd never think like that.

As I stated in one of my FOWP updates, what I don't know about composition could fill the whole universe. And that's just one side of the coin.

Take Brett Whiteley's 'in the studio'

Link via

I'm told Rembrandt practically invented composition and remains the master, perhaps though Whiteley is the master of decomposition. Where a rembrandt causes the viewer to look involuntarily at precisely what rembrandt wants you to look at, Brett Whitely seems to do everything to ensure you don't look at what you are supposed to look at.

Consider that the above painting won the Archibald prize for portraits. Brett's portrait actually appears in the handheld mirror next to the canvas. The hanging scroll directs the eye down yes, but then Whiteley's eyes direct the viewer to the nude. The nude is perhaps the most blatant distraction, but there's also Brett's use of Ultramarine blue and the brown that makes up the floor which always made his negative space - wall, sky, ocean...etc overpowering.

You get assualted by colour and in that way the composition works by simply forcing your eyes to seek refuge from the brightness. Almost the opposite of Rembrandt where as you move away from the pictures focal point the palette retreats into black, the edges get softer the shapes blurred.

For me Whiteley's spaces hold tremendous appeal, because they lack a sense of proportion, and the large areas of flat colours are what has always come through in my backgrounds. Except that where mine just look crap, a flat wall with one small feature, Brett somehow makes the same concept work and work really well.

I'm still not up to the colour phase which may I suspect have a large part in making empty space work, but I plan to do more exercises in decorating rooms, the brett whiteley way. And of course by drawing it, not by going to IKEA.

Going back to the nude though, Brett Whiteley's sketches of nudes are probably amongst my favorites in the world. I am not a fan of the nude, largely because I am not a fan of big hairy bush, and this seems to be the preoccupation of most nudes. I'm also not a fan of pedophelia, so the traditional way of avoiding bush in nudes is while I wouldn't say anything in art should be outlawed, not to my tastes.

I am fervantly waiting for the brazillian to make its way into the art world, curiously Michelangelo's nudes didn't emphasize bush, nor many other renaissance painters, but curiously enough were more often than not, nude little boys.

I will also admit I struggle with the female form in general. To my credit as a non-chauvinist, I must look at faces a lot because I know how to put one together from a few abstract lines, but breasts I just about cannot do.

I have gotten better at representing the female form from more than one angle, but my biggest problem perhaps is my love of the strait line, it never occurs to me drawing anything to rotate my wrist at all, so women with their abundant curves are problematic to say the least.

But Brett said in a video I had to watch in art class that 'the curve is the most spiritual of lines' and this made a lasting impression on my, if not my work.

Take 'Towards Sculpture' as an example not just of his nudes but of his linework:
link via prints and

Firstly he has a very distinct lack of proportion, an eye that emphasises the form rather than finds it. This is something I am terrible at, my work is obsessed with correct proportion and I keep trying to fit everything into a believable world (somewhat unsuccessfully, as Udonis in FOWP will prove).

As such the artists I find truly confusing and incomprehensible are the Whiteley's of the art world, perhaps Picasso is a better example, as someone who is classicly trained and can just throw that eye away for a wholley new one that can both completely skew reality and yet work intrinsically at the same time.

I think it's been demonstrated that the more emphasis placed on stand out features, (such as Prince Charles' ears) the easier a charicature is to recognise, even easier often than a photo. Perhaps in this way there is some mental trickery that allows the brain to get a semi abstract view of the world.

The last thing I like about Brett's line work in particular is his tendancy to work over an image. He builds an image up from throwing down a bunch of lines then I believe emphasises the 'best' or 'correct' ones, but leaves trails of the workings there. This was something I did a lot in FOWP, suspending the fact that I wasn't quite sure how to clean up the images on photoshop and perhaps just plain old fashioned laziness, I also felt dishonest whenever I removed original screwed up line work, and didn't do any real tidy-up between pencils and inking phase.

I felt in a way fowp isn't just a stand alone story, but actually a documentation of my progress as an artist. You can often see just how bad my initial attempts were hiding behind some more solid and confident ink lines.

Nevertheless, the setting and the story also play a role in comics, and I agree that the 'curve' is the most spiritual of lines. In most of my work, as an athiest too, I tend to stear clear of the spiritual and give it a wide birth. This doesn't lend itself to semi abstract. Perhaps only in scenes with a lot of emotion.

All in all, I will do a study particular of Brett's linework to build up the repertoire, somehow his nudes manage to be sexy without to me being vulgar, or overly scientific. They are very emotional, womanly nudes and I somehow doubt that anyone other than Brett would have jacked off to them, and even then Brett was probably thinking of the models too.

1 comment:

Harry Kent said...

interesting discussion ... loved your point about the eye seeking refuge from the overwhelming field of ultramarine (though i wonder if BW didn't also just delight in drowning in it)