This ‘cameo’ written by Tim and reading like a perfectly formed one-act-play, describes one of their excursions:
F O R E W O R D
“YEAH? WHAT DO you mean the dogs can’t come?”
“Well, you said they weren’t.”
“If they can’t come, I’m not coming either!”
“Yeah, alright, okay.”
That was the way it was. On many occasions I would
disagree, but in the end would defer to Brett.
And so we set off – all the journeys have become one –
baked beans, Arches paper, veridian green, notebooks with
rubber bands around them, Chines brushes, stumps of sticks
that were brushes or pencils, dark bottles of ink, tubes of sticky
paint and attendant rags with their spotted history, and some
books. Not glossy books, but books that were tools – information,
catalogues of affection, the pages used, torn and on occasion adorned.
Just a bit of red ochre, like squeezing the last of the toothpaste,
to the warm shadow of a tree. A bird might call, maybe a currawong.
It appeared to enquire, and it sounded like a breadboard being washed.
Maybe ochre wasn’t the answer!
Snap….a bit of ‘wickey’ to warm up.
“Not enough white in the top corner. Draw a nail across a
standard sheet”. Decisions were made with charcoal, with paint,
with the paper and canvas.
The fire cackles, throw on a few sticks, evening comes down.
“Where are the dogs?”
“Well I did say…”
The car’s movement muted any sound and sank the
occupants Into reveries; there may have been a tape playing.
The road curved away toward Bathurst outlined by the hills
as the sun went down; the headlights chose our course. As I drove
I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Brett’s head silhouetted by the
sun. He had a halo – and although no angel, I had seen what he could do.
A road became a street, and in the same way he had assumed
the hills, he engaged the town: combative, difficult, lithesome.
Night brought death, or so the tradition holds. A libation helps,
that’s human. (But was there enough ultramarine in that shadow?)
So you have a hot bath. (Should I warm the shadow?)
“Well, the kidney’s and the claret were okay.”
In those days the coming of the sun brought energy – later foreboding,
but that can be a factor of age.
I believe I was privileged to watch a uniquely gifted man create a few remarkable and beautiful paintings and drawings. If I had to bend my knee
about a couple of dogs, well, so be it, I was a lucky man.
In the end, however, the dog that licked his hand took him by the
throat – a quest for sublimity can do that.
If we ever had a deal, and it was ever agreed, he allowed me
to have the best of it.
As always the big silver birch is refusing to part with its leaves, still yellow in the greying garden. A strong cold wind is tearing at it blowing golden snow onto the verandah. The shortest day comes soon but still this big tree holds onto the remembrance of summer.
June begins tomorrow, the month of my brother’s passing.
Brett died at the age of 53. Brett’s and my father Clement Wraith Whiteley died at the same age, also from an embolism. Both were heavy drinkers and smokers but Brett had added heroin to his menu of killer addictions, a promotion that would destroy him.
My father, a Yorkshireman, and my brother, were the two Great Things that happened to me. My first big break in life, the piece of luck which painted my life with rich colour and humour, luck which has never left me.
The Yorkshire DNA is strong: We are sturdy, ginger, freckled, not very tall, good imitators, loyal friends and lousy bullshitters. Brett and Clem were funny, generous, clever, outrageously talented men who loved women and danced through life to a rhythm uniquely theirs. They were magic people.
The 48th anniversary of daddy’s death was May 2 this year. June 16 this year marks twenty years since a policeman knocked on my door and told me that my brother had died. The coincidence with my father later jumped out at me. Again I was staring at waste and loss. It seemed beyond belief that Brett and my father had both died at the same age and in a similar fashion. Brett has now spent almost half of his life in death. I cannot but think of the art those years may have given us – and the fun.
But the last twenty years have only served to increase his celebrity. He is more famous now than when he won the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman in one hit – the trifecta never before or since achieved.
We was deeply chuffed and touched by the love people showed him. He was a loved man. He wrapped this knowledge around him like a golden cloak. He enjoyed fame and the perks that went with it. Criticism of his work and his life, was generally seen as a bad storm on the other side of the world, nothing to really worry about. He was a hard worker, incessantly painting, drawing, sculpting whatever was happening around him. Although he could be terribly hurt by some of the cruelty aimed at him, he knew his place in history and like most great men, had the goods to carry it off.
One day when we were at the NSW Gallery together a big group of excited school girls mobbed him. “They love me” he said to me, his face alight with pride and pleasure. He was amazed and humbled to know that a new generation was studying his work, adoring him, emulating him.
The music, both intimate and expanding, embracing, lingering, mourning the passing of unspeakable moments, water flowing in secret places, blood on the soil, or dancing. Sibelieus 5th.