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The word abstract means to separate or withdraw something from something else. When applied to art it means that the depicted forms have been simplified and schematised, in other words, abstracted. The term also applies to art that doesn't rely on any real-world forms at all, geometric shapes and lines that have no relation to any real-world object. The movement began in the early 1900s and continues to represent the central movement of modern art.

Australia boasts several famous artists who made their careers creating abstract art. Today we will focus on Brett Whiteley, born on the 7th of April, 1939. He grew up in a suburb of Sydney called Longueville where he began drawing at a very early age. During his teenage years, he spent the weekends painting in the Central West of New South Wales and Canberra where he created works like 1958's The Soup Kitchen. During that period, 1956 to 1959, Whiteley attended drawing classes at the National Art School in East Sydney. In 1959 he entered an art competition sponsored by the government of Italy. The judge, Russell Drysdale, another Australian pioneer of abstract art liked what he saw. Whitely won, and left Australia for Europe on the 23rd of January, 1960 with an art scholarship.

In London, Whiteley's work was chosen for the 1961 group show 'Recent Australian Painting,' where his Untitled red painting was purchased by the famed Tate Gallery. Whiteley was the youngest living artist to sell a piece to the Tate, and that record still stands to this day!

Whiteley was always fascinated by animals, and often drew and painted works based on the inhabitants of the London Zoo, like his celebrated Two Indonesian Giraffes. He sometimes found these subjects difficult to depict, and stated that "To draw animals, one has to work at white heat because they move so much, and partly because it is sometimes painful to feel what one guesses the animal 'feels' from inside."

Whiteley won a Harkness Fellowship Scholarship to study and work in New York In 1967. There he socialized with many other artists and musicians while he lived at the Hotel Chelsea, and it was then that he became friends with musicians Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. The city was Whitley's new muse and his painting First Sensation of New York City was thought to truly capture the place's spirit, depicting busy streets full of moving cars, hot dog vendors, and street signs at the feet of the tall buildings. Another similar work, Portrait of New York hung in a place of honour behind the Hotel Chelsea's reception desk.

In his later years after many adventures abroad Whitley returned to his native Australia where he sadly died in 1992 from the addictions he struggled with. In 1999, Whiteley's 1977 painting The Jacaranda Tree, a Wynne Prize winner, sold for A$1,982,000, setting a record for a modern Australian painter at that time. His final home in NSW is now the Brett Whiteley Studio Museum.


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