Review / ‘Whiteley’ (M) ***

I WISH I had a Whiteley hanging in my house. When dinner-table conversation flagged, a Brett Whiteley painting would be bound to spark it back into life. And owning a Whiteley would denote a wealth beyond my wildest dreams!

This documentary about Brett Whiteley is the work of writer/director James Bogle, whose filmography is preponderantly TV series episodes, interspersed with a handful of quality narrative films. It encompasses Whiteley’s childhood, adolescence, development as a painter, career here in Australia and overseas, private life focused on a 27-year marriage with Wendy, rightly one of the film’s major interview subjects.

At its core is a long list of his paintings, some filmed as works in progress, others as snapshots illustrating themes, ideas and creative mileposts. Most are readable, expressing ideas and experiences that engaged his and Wendy’s lives, using colour and form to deliver statements, observing people, places and ideas.

It’s clear that Bogle expects people watching this film to work out what the paintings are saying and why they say it in that manner. They exemplify a truism worth remembering – that the artist works to satisfy his or her own objectives and if the user of the work – book, song, painting, film, sculpture, play, whatever – recognises those intentions, the artist has succeeded.

Whiteley’s paintings issue that challenge. In bringing them before us, Bogle has erected a memorial to him for which we should be grateful. The paintings are scattered all over the continent and the film aggregates many of them that we would otherwise be unlikely ever to see.

At Palace Electric

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