The huge mural Alchemy (1972-73) is the centrepiece of an exhibition of Brett Whiteley’s artworks with the theme of transcendence that will be on view at the artist’s studio in Surry Hills from 2 February until 9 June. Alchemy is seen as an allegory of life’s journey, from birth to death, and the ultimate transmutation. It wanders from darkly sexual surrealist forms through beautiful Australian landscapes with native animals and birds, to the flashing sun against a golden sky.
The mural was recently described by George Alexander from Contemporary Art Programs at the Art Gallery of New South Wales - Spread over 18 panels Alchemy may be read in any direction as a compressed autobiography in visual terms; a tense psychic combat zone in which a pitched battle takes place between body and spirit, from the messy forces of incarnation to soaring transcendence, from the primal flows of sex to the hard rain of imminent apocalypse.
For alchemists, the ‘metallic metaphor’ of the transmutation of the base metal lead into gold alluded to a profound philosophical transmutation of the soul. Whiteley’s quotation The quest is the transmutation of Self is referred to in the artist’s notes for the painting.
Together with Alchemy, other works on view will include Father forgive them, My God My God Why and The Giving Up….. Whiteley’s beautiful charcoal drawing of renowned sitar player Ravi Shankar will also be on display.
Curator of this exhibition Sheona White said It was the transformative power of art that fascinated Whiteley in much of these transcendental works. In Alchemy, the Crucifixion series and Shankar for example he has explored a range of emotionally altered states such as desire, empathy, passion and joy that deliver powerful and highly charged expressions of profound visual transformation.
For more information visit theBrett Whiteley Studio website.