Monday, 16 March 2015


*This article originally appeared in Rolling Stone Issue #43 April 1971

I’m writing this sitting in the emergency ward nursing a strained ring finger and hurt pride. Whiteley is in the next room in some stupid full body cast ordered by his hysterical agent and being drip fed morphine, the nurses ran in awhile ago when it was realized he also had a drip of Glenfiddich going straight into the breathing hole in his head cast.
They are still at odds how it got there.
 I wish they had left it there and let the bastard drown.
Brett Whiteley by SIMON SHERRY

 It all started when I was commissioned to interview an artist as part of a new highbrow arts magazine release The type of publication that had sprung up all over the city in the last couple of years and were a God send for guys like me. Just out of Uni with hair just a little too long for the traditional publishers. Mind you, they all ran on the smell of a two-dollar note and payment often came in copies of the rag your work got printed in.
Australia, so they keep telling me was going through a renaissance; we now had people who were celebrated back in the Old Country, though, most of them were arseholes and spent most of their time shit bagging their old home. Still people wanted to know about the new crowd, especially those who hadn’t jumped on a plane yet.
 I’d made a bit of a name myself interviewing subjects no one else would touch. They thought I was progressive. What they didn’t know was that I was an opportunist. I interviewed a soldier, a young lad back from Vietnam and he retold all the horrors of the jungle ,the crazy yanks shooting at everything and how he never ever saw the enemy he was sent over there to fight. All very powerful stuff, I just got lucky. I only lined up a meeting to see if he had any dope to sell, ‘cause I heard the vets had access to the best stuff. The fact he wouldn’t shut up about “over there” was a bonus. My other notable piece was an interview with a prostitute in Kings Cross, the only reason I got that one was because I thought if I acted if I cared I might get a freebie. Somehow these two gritty, real life stories had caught the attention of the editors at Whistler’s Mother. A new imprint rumoured to be financed by one of the big newspaper publishers, thus having money to throw around. Since my mailing address was my mum’s place it took me a few weeks to actually know I had a job. The Offices of Whistler’s Mother were situated on the third floor of the Bank of New South Wales building in Martin Place in the centre of town, it was a top notch address and my hopes were up for a big payday if this worked out properly.
 When I stepped out of elevator I looked at the floor directory and saw at the bottom of all the Solicitors and Financial Advisors listed someone had stuck a piece of paper with Whistler’s Mother written in pencil on the bottom with sticky tape. A small painted arrow further down on the wall pointed up the hallway. I found the office , it also had a piece of paper stuck to the glass door. This one slightly larger and the words Office Of written on it.
 I knocked for a minute or so and decided to let myself in after no one answered. The office space was small but made smaller by the massive ornate hand carved 19th Century desk occupying most of the floor space. The rest of the floor was covered in stacks of Whistler’s Mother Magazines. Basically all one could do was open the door, take two steps and sit opposite the desk on a stack of papers bundled together with string. The man I assumed to be the editor was hunched over the desk writing on the only thing other than a telephone on the huge surface. His hand. I waited looking around the office, the walls had many of the great masters sticky taped to wall, mainly because they had all been cut out of magazines, books or encyclopaedias. After a good look around I turned back to the man behind the desk and found him glaring at me.
“You’re late” he snarled. He was a young man with long greasy hair and a floral shirt open to his belly button. Around his neck and sitting on his hairless chest lay a large gold medallion. Embossed on it was a naked Rubenesque lady with a pig.
Before I could answer he said ” It’s designed to shock, like the new art, like the new artists, welcome to late 20th Century man” he delivered his words in a rapid fire speech pattern, I just nodded.
“I like your stuff man, it’s brave, and it’s fresh. It’s like the new artists, their new art, it’s shocking” he continued
I just kept nodding.
“That’s why I want you, your style, to interview the greatest living artist in Sydney, in Australia today” I nodded. But he didn’t continue. He just stared at me as if expecting something.
Then the penny dropped.
“Oh, yes, uhh who would that be?” I asked.
“Brett , Brett Whiteley of course”
He held up his hand there were numbers and names written all over it” “This is where to meet, this is my phone number, Brett’s Agent’s number, that is the day, and that is how many words I want” he spat with each direction pointing into his open palm. I took out my trusty notepad and started copying what was written on his hand. When I had taken down everything I could, he slammed a ten dollar note on the desk. “Expenses, it comes out of your final payment, when you deliver, I need it by the end of the week” With that he put down his head and continued to write on his hand. I stayed sitting a little bit longer to see if any else transpired but he just kept on scribbling. I got to leave and as an after thought asked “If this magazine is about Australian art how come it’s called Whistler’s Mother?” Without lifting his head, he stopped writing on his hand and pointed towards the door. So I left. Off to interview Australia’s Wunderkind of splashing paint onto canvas.
Brett Whiteley.
 My meagre research on Brett Whiteley revealed a painter on par with today’s rock stars. Elegantly wasted, trendy and notorious for being unpredictable. Silly me for thinking unpredictable referred only to one’s punctuality. The meeting place was a small chemist in Oxford St suggested by Whiteley to the editor and when I arrived he was nowhere to be seen.
 After waiting for 3 hours I rang the office and they assured me: He’ll be there, just be patient, then quickly reminded me don’t come back without the interview or else I’ll be paying him back the allowance. So I just sat in my shitty little Hillman and kept sticking coins in the meter. After afternoon became evening a figure approached my car, its silhouette caused by the florescent lighting from the chemist, which was still open, much to my relief. If it hadn’t been for the free jellybeans at the counter I would have not eaten at all.
 The figure slapped the window of the car and demanded I open it. There was no mistaking that curly halo. “Mister Whiteley?” I enquired.
“You got cash?”
“Well yes, a little for food. Are you…”
“Give it to me, it’s meant to be spent on me, give it to me now”
I reached into my coat and placed the money into the waving hand in front of me. “Now follow me” and with that he went into the chemist shop. As we walked towards the counter I realized this guy looked like Harpo Marx, in as much that he, like Harpo, looked like he’d been dead for some time. Whiteley was bone thin with a the wasted and emancipated look of a bulimic , his dress was nothing short of spectacular. Double breasted three piece in brown with silver wide pinstripes, he carried an umbrella and his shoes though very shiny had traces of blood on the heel and toe.
He turned to me saying “Sorry I’m early , I get that AM and PM confused”
“Had you ever noticed one is dark and one is daytime” I offered.
 “This is why I love this establishment” he said ignoring my suggestion entirely. With this he ordered the pharmacist to bring him “His lolly bag” with ‘the good stuff’ the last with his hand beside his mouth in an exaggerated motion and a big ill timed wink. “What on earth do you need that for?” I enquired, curiosity being one of my weaker points. “They’re for you, so you can survive the night,” he said taking a big bag of what looked like mixed pills. “Keys” he demanded. “Oh no. No way, that is the total amount of my belongings parked out there,” I protested. “No keys, no interview” I handed him the keys defeated. I thanked the Lord that it was late evening and a Tuesday because Whiteley had no idea what side of the road to drive on; he even managed on a regular basis to grind the gears even though the car was an automatic. All the while he kept swigging out of a bottle he produced from his jacket and swallowing hands full of tablets, capsules and assorted other pills from the paper bag.
 “Ah my son. the life of the artist is a troubled one… What the ?!!!”
Just as I thought I was going to get a quote , or even some sense out of Whiteley he swerved recklessly to the gutter braking heavily, my car bounced over the curb, I closed my eyes and thought of Christmas.
 “Damn, vandals” cried Whiteley and jumped from the car reaching for something in his jacket. I followed as fast as I could. The target of Whiteley’s anger was a man in his twenties painting graffiti on the wall of an alley. He had written DOWN WITH CAPITILIST PIGS in big white letters with a paint brush. Whiteley sprang at him before he could react and slashed the young man across the head with his umbrella. As the man lay writhing in agony on filthy wet cobblestones Whiteley grabbed the paint brush and proceeded to paint RECKLESS VANDAL IDIOT on the man's face , waist and trousers. All the time kicking him if his cries grew to loud, when finished he threw the brush and can at the man's head and we returned to my car.
“Respect for other’s property, I was taught that early” he said as he backed my car over a rubbish bin and dented the rear guard. As we proceeded down the road Whiteley was playing pin ball with my car and several others parked on the side of the road when once again he slammed on the brakes.
“You better drive now” and moved to take my seat.
“The steering’s getting very heavy in all this sand and those eye bats are giving my peripheral vision a work out with all their swooping and diving” he complained “Your turn”
  I felt better now I had some semblance of control back I turned to look at Whiteley he was wrestling with his jacket and was losing; he surrendered to a hopeless cause then started to insult his refection. Much to my dismay when we started to move on Whiteley had had enough of arguing with himself and decided to leave the car whilst going at speed. I managed to slow down and grab his jacket tail moments from him jumping head first onto the road. I snapped. “Will you sit down and shut the fuck up. Please?” I screamed, pleaded.
“ How long has that tentacle been growing out of your forehead son?” He then proceed to throw up all over himself, when I thought he could vomit no further he turned and vomited out the window, a thick stream of it coating the passenger side of my heavily dented car. It was at this point I aim the car at the tree. I never did get the interview, my car is ruined and the magazine won’t pay me .
 I think I’ll go plug that whisky back in Whiteley’s pie hole.


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