Art, Life and the Other Thing by Brett Whiteley

Art, Life and the Other Thing

Art, Life and the Other Thing by Brett Whiteley

Painting Details

Artist: Brett Whiteley
Title and Year: Art, Life and the Other Thing, 1978
Size: Three panels; Babboon is 90.4 x 77.2cm, Self painting is 230 x 122, and photo self is 31.1 x 31.1 cm
Medium: Oil, photograph and mixed media on board
Collection: Art Gallery of New South Wales, Australia
Subject: Portraits, Male Portraits, Self Portraits


This self portrait triptych by Whiteley won him the prestigious Archibald prize in 1978 and was acquired by the Art Gallery of NSW in 1998. Whiteley also won the prestigious Sulman Prize and the Wynne Prize in 1978.

The three panels represent three different aspects of the artist's self.

In the lower left panel is a baboon that represents the addicted self of the artist or the "monkey on the back". The baboon is handcuffed and pinned to the ground with nails. It has its mouth open, screaming, while a hand in the top left corner of the panel offers him a syringe of heroin. Brett Whiteley struggled with his drug addiction and eventually died from it in 1992.

The larger, central panel is a reference to portraiture and how far reality can be pushed. It also mentions the famous William Dobell portrait of Joshua Smith that also won the Archibald Prize in 1943.

In the upper right panel is a photo of the artist, which represents the artist as he actually looks in real life.

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Quote of the Moment

  • "The painter must enclose himself within his work; he must respond not with words, but with paintings."
    Paul Cezanne