I am a few weeks behind commenting on my visit to the Brett Whiteley Studio and Gallery, and indeed on Alchemy itself. I have been in deep thought about what one part to concentrate on. The work ‘Alchemy’ is an incredible artwork mapping Brett Whiteley’s life. Some have said it is a self portrait. I think of it in a literary sense. It is autobiographical. A portrait in art is generally one picture, showing one aspect of a person, with facial features, showing only the surface. An autobiography however, can reveal thoughts and feelings that perhaps were not evident before being revealed.
Alchemy can be described as taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Taking what is common, and making it shine like gold. I believe that what Brett Whiteley was trying to show was the transition of his own life, from conception through to spiritual nirvana, turning one sperm amongst millions, into a life that mattered.
The section I wish to focus on is his discovery or what I call the exploration portion of the artwork. I have interpreted this part of the painting to coincide with Whiteley’s adolescence. Adolescence is a time of discovery. We use a telescope to look into the cosmos. We discover what part we are to play in this big wide world. and we realise, with the use of a magnifying glass, that our own worth is infinitesimal compared to the universe. Brett Whiteley depicts this as him looking at his own life as William Blake’s grain of sand, making reference to his work
If we are reading the work from right to left (Contrary to the chronological way it was painted), you will see that at the end of what I term Whitleley’s adolescence a speech bubble with …!! enclosed. I believe this is the moment of revelation for Whiteley. the “That’s it!” moment.
And then with the realisation, he has discovered IT.
When travelling in the city on the weekend, I had my partner lean out of the car window and take these photos of a mural on the side of a building on the corner of Southern Cross Drive and Flinders St. You will see here that the artist is also facinated by Whiteley and has captured some of the spirit of Whiteley.