Strained Elegy. "Black + Whiteley: Barry Dickins in Search of Brett" by Barry Dickins. [review]
There have been two 'biographies' of Brett Whiteley since his death in 1992: the 'unauthorised' account by Graeme Blundell and Margot Hilton, and a 'memoir' by Whiteley’s sister, Frannie Hopkirk. Neither book satisfactorily plugged the holes in the Whiteley myth, and each had its limitations. "Black + Whiteley", Barry Dickins's contribution to this literature, has a vastly different agenda. 'Plugging holes' is the least of Dickins's concerns as he embarks on his curious, freewheeling journey 'in search of Brett'. Dickins's style would be more palatable in a different kind of book, an autobiography or series of essays, where poetic licence might feel more appropriate. While there's no harm in a biographer revealing his or her processes, contextualising or even personalising the material, in "Black + Whiteley" there is too much Barry Dickins on show. Preston feels that Dickins is straining his own art in an attempt to elucidate another's and, in doing so, loses track of his prime responsibility: his subject.