The Lebanonese Grin - Bondi 1986 signed, dated and inscribed 'The Lebanonese Grin - BONDI 86. Brett Whiteley' lower left oil and collage on board 53 x 49cm (20 7/8 x 19 5/16in).
PROVENANCE: Brett Whiteley Studio, Sydney Private Collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED: Just Brett Whiteley, Richard Martin Art, Sydney, 9-27 April 2011
From Colonial times to the present, the beach has fascinated Australian artists. It has inspired some of our finest works of art such as Charles Conder's Impressionist masterpiece, A Holiday at Mentone 1888 in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, and Charles Meere's mural - like Australian Beach Pattern 1940 is in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Again, in the 1940s, Sidney Nolan painted a number of works of people enjoying themselves on the beach at St. Kilda. Each presents an absorbing reflection of its time and styles, be it the full length dress and hatted lady of the Victorian era, the togged and bronzed healthy ideals of the late thirties, or Nolan's fun of the forties. Brett Whiteley's painted devotions to the Australian beach culture are similarly brilliant evocations of time and place. Capturing the age of topless bathing, which had become common at Bondi by the 1980s, their striking visual appeal is full of joie de vivre and sensual appeal. Whiteley offers yet another, but highly individual version of the cult of the sun and glorification of bodies beautiful, wrapped in the indulgences that typified his age. Bondi, and later Byron Bay, are seen as places of pleasure where worldly concerns and troubles are banned. Intellectually they are undemanding, which adds to their popularity, and express perfectly the mindless enjoyment of their subject. As Janet Hawley wrote, 'Whiteley adores the theatre and sexual sloth of the beach'.1 Indulging in all that the sun, sand, and surf had to offer, Whiteley venerated the subject in triptych form in Bondi Beach 1983 (private collection, Perth).
Bondi Beach was once known as the 'Playground of the Pacific', patrolled by professional Lifeguards, and volunteer Lifesavers identified by their traditional colours of red and yellow, as in The Lebanonese Grin Bondi 1986. The Bondi Surf Club is the oldest surf lifesaving club in the world and introduced surf lifesaving to Australia. It is an Australian icon, and Whiteley typically presents it with characteristic larrikin humour. Typical of his fellow Australians, he takes the mickey out of things that grow too self- important. Here, Whiteley depicts the iconic surfie/lifesaver as thick-necked and smaller of head. While the face is dominated by large brown eyes of a direct, blank stare, the mouth given over to a stupid grin. A slob of cream protects his nose from the sun.
The thump of the surf, painted in Whiteley's favourite ultramarine blue tossed with white, provides a particularly meaningful background. It is also a metaphor for the location, 'Bondi' being an Aboriginal word for water, or the noise of water breaking over rocks. During the 1980s it was a favourite place for Whiteley where he used to swim and mix with the crowds. In 1984 he published A Day at Bondi, a suite of ten etchings, which included images of sunbathers and the many other sights that so appealed to him. One is similar to our painting - the younger head now long-haired, wearing sunglasses and posed against that background of breaking waves.
David Thomas 1 Hawley, J., 'Brett Whiteley: The Art of the Warrior', Age, Good Weekend, Melbourne, 17 February 1990, p. 22
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