We are swimming against the tide of the crowded footpath on a Saturday morning, walking east on Devonshire Street, Surry Hills. The cafes are busy, teeming with same-sex hipster couples, young mums, joggers and a few retirees. The street is full of construction workers and debris from the light rail project pushing through the neighbourhood. We don’t know exactly where we are going, but we are happy. Our goal is the Brett Whiteley Studio, on a laneway somewhere in this vicinity. A block after crossing Crown Street we spot a small sign on a building pointing left to the studio. We duck off the busy path, to the road less travelled. The studio is a large warehouse, painted mauvish/maroon, with no signage, except a small plaque near the big wooden door, with the words “Endlessnessism Pty Ltd” painted above it. On the door is a note, of apology, that there is a life drawing class on today, but don’t mind it. Sure enough, the big door opens to a spacious white-walled gallery, with more than dozen artists and their easels, busily sketching, as a well-sculpted nude man in his 60s holds a pose in the centre in the room. It’s business as usual, just the way Whiteley would have liked it. At the time, the exhibit was Naked, a wide selection of Whiteley’s paintings, sculptures and sketches of nudes, including his wife, Wendy, an early muse of his. His Archibald Prize winner, Self portrait in the studio, 1976, is front and centre - I come back to it three times to catch all the detail. The mezzanine level includes a couch, working table, notes, a stereo system and music collection, frozen in time.
And there, for an hour, we are frozen in Whiteley time, too.