Brett Whiteley

Portraits of Artists

It was shortly after a six month stint working as Martin Sharp’s studio assistant during Martin’s preparations for his first solo exhibition that I developed an interest in photography. It was 1965.

So when Sharp left for the UK I formed my own photographic studio, working in advertising, fashion and theatre.

When Sharp then returned to Australia in 1969 he invited me to join him and a group of other artists in ‘The Yellow House,’ an artist’s co-op in the old Clune Galleries in Victoria Road, Potts Point, Sydney.

Why, exactly, two small children and a dog were on the end of the Longueville baths that day, I do not know. In retrospect perhaps we had been told to stay on the beach but a brand of Whiteley anarchy had put us in danger. Perhaps it was my fault for not taking better care of my young brother. Whatever the reason, the events are indelibly inscribed on my memory. The blind, screaming horror of it is as vivid as a freshly experienced nightmare.

“All is vanity” said Rembrandt – perhaps referring to the art of portraiture. One wonders where vanity intruded on his many illuminating and dauntingly candid self portraits. The vanity in portraiture lies in the conceit of being chosen in the first place, quickly followed by dismay at the result.

Sitting for a portrait means putting oneself on the altar of how the artist sees you. Over this perception of oneself comes another truth – how others see you. There lies the terror and the ultimate definition of vanity.