'Brett was the sweetest, funniest, cleverest man I've ever known, my confidant and best friend. He had a rare radiance, an inner certainty which was compelling and hugely attractive.'
Frannie Hopkirk knew Brett Whiteley all his life. He was her brother. Here, for the first time, one of those closest to Brett presents a vivid and movingly personal insight into his life and work.
Throughout their lives, despite the sometimes vast geographical distances that separated them, brother and sister maintained a strong spiritual connection, an unbreakable bond. This brave, often painfully honest but loving portrait could only have been written by someone who Brett knew and trusted implicitly.
They were born two years and one week apart into an average to extraordinary middle-class family. Brett was a streetwise larrikin from the very beginning, both a leader and a loner, spending hours drawing the harbour from his bedroom window in their Longueville home or plotting all kinds of mischief for his gang. Frannie adored her brother, and was a willing participant in his chaotic adventures. At the time Brett was awarded his travelling art scholarship and left for Europe, Frannie married and moved to New Zealand. Five years later, Frannie was the mother of five and Brett had stepped into the international art scene.
Staying with Brett and Wendy in New York, Frannie had her first taste of the rock'n'roll generation that held such fascination for Brett, and her writing captures the essence of the hip '60s. The lives of brother and sister seemed to run on parallel lines, and often intersected. When the Whiteleys returned to Australia in the '70s, Frannie was part of the Lavender Bay scene. Throughout Brett's life Frannie watched and celebrated his success, as well as sharing his disappointments. She also experienced her own joys and tragedies as the mother of a large family in New Zealand, then living with her lover in London, eventually moving back to Sydney and then to the Central West of NSW, a landscape familiar to her and Brett from boarding school. This is her story too.
For Brett Whiteley, art and life were intertwined. Frannie examines the relationship between her brother's life and art as she discusses Brett's major works and some lesser known paintings and drawings. She knew the young man who dreamed of fame as an artist while he sketched the ferries ploughing across Sydney Harbour. She understood when he painted The American Dream as a response to the toxic influence of American culture and violence, and she shared his devotion and connection to works such as Alchemy.
During the last years of his life, Brett relied on Frannie and she became his closest friend. As his addiction to heroin deepened and ultimately controlled him, she offered him unconditional love. Her compassion and understanding set this book apart as a unique and moving account of the life of one of Australia's greatest artists.