By Ellen Hill, Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre at Katoomba has finally opened the doors to the long-awaited Brett Whiteley: West of the Divide exhibition.
Curated by his former wife and “goddess muse’’ Wendy Whiteley and the Art Gallery of NSW, the exhibition focuses on the enduring connection that Whiteley had with the region west of the Great Dividing Range and features 38 works including painting, sculpture and drawings that span three decades of the artist’s career.
Speaking at the cultural centre on the day of the exhibition opening, Wendy Whitely said Brett’s connection with the Blue Mountains and Central West encompassing Oberon, Bathurst, Orange, Lucknow, Milthorpe, Carcoar, Sofala, Hill End and Marulan stretched back to his days at boarding school in Bathurst “which he hated – he felt abandoned and punished’’.
“But they did provide him and [fellow artist] Vernon Treweeke with an art teacher – they were the only two kids in the entire school who were in the least bit interested in the arts.’’
After leaving school, Whiteley got a job at Lintas advertising agency in Sydney. He and colleagues Michael Johnson and Max Cullen went on regular weekends away to the Central West including Oberon.
“They’d take off on Friday… and they’d always come in this direction,’’ Wendy said. “They’d come up to the mountains and then go over to Hill End and Sofala, drink a lot of beer, fall out of trees, do some drawing, paint and have a rollicking good boys weekend, you know. I never came on those weekends – girls weren’t allowed (all for the best, I’m sure – it would have driven me mad).’’
The couple left Australia and lived in Europe for 10 years, then New York and Fiji, finally returning to Australia.
The Whiteleys, who then had their daughter Arkie, lived in Carcoar in an converted schoolhouse owned by John Laws, and Oberon for several years.
“I love the Oberon area,’’ Wendy said. “We had fires every night. One time we went to the house and in the kitchen there was a big snake on the inside of the screen door. One of the dogs got down a rabbit hole and we had to dig it out. It was a lovely life. We had friends come up and stay with us.
“Brett worked a lot there. He loved it. He’d go into the landscape in the day with the dogs. He never really worked out in the field but he’d go out for inspiration and do some sketches and then come back into the studio and work, wherever that was at the time.
“In Australia, his major landscape paintings come from this area, west of the Divide.’’
Whiteley fell in love with the “spectacularly beautiful’’ landscape around Oberon, his favourite features of which can be seen in his work: “those craggy rocks’’, the Fish River, the willows which grew along the riverbanks at the time.
“He loved that kind of sculptural thing with the rocks coming out of the ground. It’s a staggering landscape. It’s very different to the kind of landscape with the rolling, buxom hills that are manicured and very gentle around Bathurst. And he shows that difference between the areas in his work.’’
His penchant for sticking mementos such as sticks and stones to his artwork began during the Carcoar/Oberon time, Wendy said.
West of the Divide exhibition works have been selected from Whiteley’s studio and the Art Gallery of NSW.
“There’s some very important works here,’’ Wendy said. “It’s taken a while to organise this show but now it’s up I’m so happy with it, I think it just looks stunning.’’
She was also impressed with the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre gallery: “Love it. I just love the elegance of it in this space – it’s beautiful.
“I’ve never been here before so I was a little bit nervous – I always am when I’m doing a show but it’s been beautifully selected and curated.’’
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre director Paul Brinkman said: “This exhibition acknowledges the important role the Central West and greater Blue Mountains region played in the artistic development of one of Australia’s most recognised and celebrated artists and in doing so further interprets the rich artistic narrative of the region.’’
Brett Whiteley: West of the Divide will be exhibited at Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, 30 Parke St, Katoomba, until Sunday, November 30. Cost: $5 adults, $3 concession, free cultural centre members and under-16. There will also be a range of public programs throughout the exhibition. Bookings and details: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (02) 4780 5410 or www.bluemountainsculturalcentre.com.au.