Whiteley is in the air…

Brett Whiteley's 'Nobby's Head and the Entrance to Newcastle'

Brett Whiteley’s ‘Nobby’s Head and the Entrance to Newcastle’

Brett Whiteley is certainly newsworthy at the moment!

In Newcastle the major sculpture titled ‘Black Totem II’ (1993) was installed at the entrance to the Newcastle Art Gallery (NAG) this week after some negotiation by NAG Director Ron Ramsey. I’m sure you have read the story as to its history, two excellent articles here: 
http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-10-26/brett-whiteley-statue-heading-to-newcastle/5046264 &
http://www.newcastle.nsw.gov.au/about_newcastle/news_and_events/media_releases/media_releases/whiteley_work_nests_in_newcastle

Black Totem II by Brett Whiteley lands in Newcastle

Black Totem II by Brett Whiteley lands in Newcastle

Last week the artist’s major artwork titled ‘My Armchair’ sold for $3,927,272 a new auction record for the artist. Measuring 206 x 284 cms.  It is easily comparable to the NAG major acquisition ‘Summer at Carcoar’, measuring  244 x 199 cms, dated 1977. It was donated by well know resident at the time William Bowmore AO, OBE. He held the view that philanthropy was the duty of the wealthy. Bowmore when asked why he donated the artwork, said at the time “I made my money in Newcastle and it deserved it”.

This generosity to the city of Newcastle with an art gift was again revealed to us with the new sculpture for the city! At the same time with this recent sale at auction it gives us an insight to a comparable value for  our own ‘Summer at Carcoar’.

Whiteley is arguably one of the most important Australian artists of all time, how fortunate a city we are in being the receiver of such significant art gifts!

Measured on these above events alone, look at the respect held for our city and the NAG in contrast to the recent controversial arts NAG news. Why do we continually need to prove ourselves to Newcastle insiders?  A pride of a city is often reflected in its treasures within, equally with those of our topography, people and lifestyle advantages we enjoy. Whatever your thoughts in relation to the arts, love or loathe it, Newcastle and the Hunter Region is held in high esteem nationally. Maybe we should start to realise this and share our pride with our neighbours and visitors!

I want to share with you another story on how the ‘Nobbys Head and the Entrance to Newcastle’ painting completed in 1991 by Whiteley was procured for a private company Carrington Coal Company (No longer operating). Two Newcastle businessmen involved in the coal industry at the time, recognised the significance of the iconic Nobby’s Head, a landmark and topographic symbol for the area and the city. For centuries artists were drawn to the structure delving into it’s history and marvelling at this structure and what it has witnessed over the years. Nobbys has an enduring fascination today.

Brett Whiteley at Nobby’s Beach Promenade with the Author

Brett Whiteley at Nobby’s Beach Promenade with the Author

Their foresight in developing one of Newcastle’s first corporate art collections is recognised in the publication ‘The Nobbys Collection” published 1993 by Cambridge Press and foreword by David Langman. Now out of print.

The two directors were well known to me as clients and friends and after the commencement of the collection then focussed heavily on historical paintings, drawings and graphics of Nobbys interspersed with a selection of commissioned and off the shelf contemporary artists, it was time for a refocus of the collection. It was decided over a luncheon we three had that significant name value was required. As such prominent Australian artists* were needed to augment the collection to give it a higher recognition. I suggested the most prominent contemporary artist was Brett Whiteley. It was agreed I should approach the artist to gauge his interest in carrying out a Nobbys commission for the collection. Our first meeting was somewhat intrepid!  I had heard Whiteley doesn’t do commissions, why should he anyway, he was in the position he could do what he chose to do! Anyway Brett told me his interest in Newcastle was indeed a long term one. His association with William Bowmore had brought him to the city previously and as such he was familiar with the city and the harbour. I was delighted that he was both fond of the city and quite promptly accepted the idea of the commission. Of course the matter of size of the painting and medium was left to the artist and he said he would get back to me with the details.  Before I left his studio I could see Brett was already considering the idea of a Newcastle painting.

The next morning I received a phone call, saying he had ordered the canvas and had been thinking about the painting overnight. He had started to envisage the composition already. As you can imagine the directors were delighted with the immediacy Brett showed. About a week later Brett had the canvas at hand and had started to develop the painting, which he reported with enthusiasm. Three weeks later the artwork had gone to the framer and was complete. I asked Brett about the finished painting. He said it was a composition he had been thinking about for sometime even before we approached him. He talked of the element of a birdseye view of the coast and harbour encompassing Nobbys, the inspiration from seagulls flying overhead and the envisaged view they have on the landscape. This lead to the composition scoping about a 270 degree view, quite an ingenious vision really, being synonymous with his creative thought process! To add further dimension he used rope, representing Fort Scratchely flag pole line etc.

The composition utilised the cobalt blue as we have seen in his Sydney Harbour compositions.

This painting remains an opportunity forgone for several Novocastrians who declined to purchase the painting when the Nobbys Collection was disbanded. How strong a memory can be for many of us when one really good one gets away?

The painting has been sold three times since being sold from the ‘Nobbys Collection’, continuing to add value on each occasion.

Mark Widdup
Director
Cooks Hill Galleries.

* Other artists of higher profile included:- Sidney Nolan, Colin Lanceley, Tim Storrier; others were listed however the collection was discontinued. Sidney Nolan’s inclusion in the collection was pending, delayed due to illness prior to the collection ceasing.

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