Australian painter, born in Sydney, where he studied at the Julian Ashton Art School, 1957–9. In 1960 he travelled to Europe on a scholarship and after a few months in Italy moved to London in 1961. At this time there was something of a vogue for Australian art in Britain and he quickly achieved success: he won the international prize at the Paris *Biennale for Young Artists in 1961 and had his first one-man exhibition in 1962, at the Matthiesen Gallery, London.
After spending a year and a half in New York and a year in Fiji, he returned to Sydney in 1970. Whiteley's work was based on the human figure but often came close to abstraction. His imagery was sometimes erotic or violent: in 1964–5, for example, he did a series based on the crimes of the infamous sex murderer Christie, who was executed in London in 1953. Whiteley's later life was marred by personal problems, including divorce and a battle with addiction to alcohol and drugs: he died from an overdose of drugs. Christopher Allen (Art in Australia, 1997) writes that Whiteley was the artist who most ‘truly speaks for middlebrow Australian culture in the seventies and eighties…the media loved him and his every sketch met with adulation…With his brilliant facility, bright colours, images of sun, sea and sexual passion, he became the acceptable face of modernism and his pictures, though growing steadily worse and more vacuous, continued to fetch higher and higher prices.’
Text Source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)