BRETT WHITELEY'S love affair with Byron Bay is obvious in an artwork depicting Wategos Beach, which will be auctioned by Sotheby's Australia in Sydney next week.
The Nor-Easterly at Wategos, an oil, ink, pencil and collage work on paper, was completed by the late artist on November 1, 1989, during a three-week stay at a Wategos Beach house with his lover, Janice Spencer.
“He was detoxing,” Byron Bay photographer, and friend of Janice Spencer, Deborah Pearse, said. “Janice was looking after him.”
Ms Pearse visited the beach house during Whiteley's stay and saw many of his works in progress.
“He was painting most of the time,” Ms Pearse said.
“It was amazing work.
“He was intense and talked a lot, passionate.”
Ms Pearse said Whiteley and Spencer, who like the artist also died later from a drug overdose, were a larger than life couple.
“She was his muse and she took care of him,” Ms Pearse said. “She was incredibly beautiful and kind, but she wasn't a happy soul.”
It was at this time that Whiteley supposedly sketched a portrait of Spencer in charcoal on the side of the men's toilet block, now demolished, at Wategos Beach. Although there are a few versions of the story, there is no record of the work.
Whiteley did, however, leave sketches on the garage walls of the beach house in which he stayed, and these have been preserved.
Sotheby's vice-chair Geoffrey Smith said Nor-Easterly Wategos was one of the artist's favourite works of the series completed in Byron Bay.
“It was on the invitation to the exhibition,” Mr Smith said.
The exhibition in which the 147x114cm painting was shown for the first time was at the Australian Galleries in Melbourne in 1990. It was the artist's final major solo exhibition before his death from a heroin overdose in 1992.
The mixed media work is inscribed, ‘The way the nor-easterly slowly chews the rocks into sand while people are talking on the telephone'.
Mr Smart described the work as ‘rhythmical' and‘kinetic', because of the way it depicts the human form within the landscape.
The painting has been in private collections in Melbourne and Sydney for the past 20 years.
The work is expected to sell for as much as $240,000.
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