A literary retelling of my visit to Brett Whiteley Studio SydneyNicole Cullinan
It’s a well worn path, the muse, the artist, the sex, the love, the destruction…The embodiment of a creative existence. A story that continues to captivate us throughout time. Why do we never tire of it? It is desire that holds us all entranced in this doomed narrative.
As I wander from room to room in Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney my mind is roaming freely. There are quotes on the walls, there is paint everywhere and ‘The Alchemy’ resides here. That is one of his more famous works painted in 1972. It is autobiographical, which is easy to see and understand when one is standing before it. It is like a surreal cacophony of all that was important to him. I remember ‘The Alchemy’ but my imagination is with the bathroom series. My all-time favourite.
The bathroom series was painted in London in 1962, the same year he got married. The subject for this series; his wife Wendy, who remained a muse for him throughout his life. The series to be his first major exploration into figurative art, it was inspired by French painter Bonnard and his bath painting. The bathroom series is seductive, sensual and intimate.
London Studio Apartment 1962- A reimagining by Nicole Cullinan
I can hear the water pouring into the bath, a whoosh and a splash for the first few minutes, then it settles to a gentle flowing rhythm, water on water. It takes about 15 minutes to fill a bath. The air is very cold, and the bath is way too hot. I didn’t time my undressing well and now I am cold which makes it even harder to ease into the water. You need at least a hand width of water to get in. I take the plunge and feel hot and cold simultaneously. It’s a very strange sensation. My bottom, calves and feet are pink and searing, knees pulled up to my chest; minimising the surface area burn. I accept it has to be a freezing back bath, just for a few minutes. I lean back into the cool porcelain of the bath, relief. More time passes, all temperatures reach equilibrium and I start to relax.
The air is warm and thick with condensation, the door is shut. This tiny bathroom has a dreamscape quality. A gentle mist hangs in the air and softens everything. There is no imperfection, or if it existed it can no longer be seen. There are no broken tiles, or chips in the bath, the light is luminescent. My lazy gaze wandering, the arch of my foot, slim ankles, the length of my calf. My voluptuous hips, little waist and ripe breasts. My head is lolling gently on the ledge of the bath and I’m about to descend into a state of lapsed consciousness. I drop my novel over the edge of the bath, I don’t want to lose another one. Moments later I slide into oblivion.
I smell him before I hear him. It’s a woody, musky, earthy scent. A gentle awakening. He’s sitting on the edge of the bath looking at me. I smile. He looks content. He has a polaroid camera in one hand and a spliff in the other. I like him this way. We stay like this for what seems like an eternity. He’s talking and I’m listening, passing the spliff from one to the other. I top up the bath with some more hot water and invite him in. He doesn’t want to join me. He gestures to the polaroid. I’m not sure. He lights up another and we talk some more. I’m making the spliff all wet with my fingers, it is falling apart. He slides further along the edge of the bath, so I don’t need to touch the spliff. He turns it back in towards his hand and it looks like a little lantern, I take a long drag. I’m feeling quite relaxed now. My eyes are closed, my head is tilted, like it would take too much effort to hold it upright. I hear the crackle of the film packet being opened. I focus on the smell. It has a strong, sweet chemical smell. I am still, I am so very still…
At the time Whiteley painted the bathroom series he was concerned that being married would curb his freedom from a creative and wholistic point of view. The balance between security and freedom being something that most married people must contemplate over the course of an enduring relationship. In the end I think we all desire love. Theirs was a love story that had all the elements of a grand tragedy, like they were falling over happy in pain.
There is something for everyone in Brett Whiteley’s work. The integrity of the early works with their connectedness to nature. The bathroom series and its eroticism, or something more abstract and surreal. I can appreciate all the work, the unifying element being his truth at that moment in time. Brett Whitely Studio Sydney exhibits a broad variety of his work and is an engaging place to while away some time. (Brett Whiteley 7 April 1939-15 June 1992)
Brett Whiteley Studio Sydney, 2 Raper Street, Surry Hills, Sydney. Opening Hours- Friday-Sunday 10am-4pm. Free admission is made possible by J.P.Morgan
For more detailed information here is a link https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/brett-whiteley-studio/