Since its establishment in 1984, the Charles Nodrum Gallery’s exhibition program embraces a diversity of media and styles - from painting, sculpture & works on paper to graphics and photography; from figurative, geometric, gestural, surrealist & social comment to installation & conceptually based work.
— Biography of Lorri Whiting
The abstract Australian painter Lorri Whiting has spent most of her life in Rome. Remarkably, she became part of the Italian art world where she was recognised by serious contemporary artists and galleries. She is Roman by adoption; she thinks like an Italian but retains her independent Australianess with a feisty and adventurous spirit, as well as a fierce love of the sea.
Unlike well-known expatriates such as Jeffrey Smart and Justin O’Brien (who exhibit in this country but not in Europe), Lorri Whiting’s paintings have been exhibited regularly in prestigious galleries in Italy and the UK, as well as in New York, with an impressive list of solo exhibitions. She is a prolific and dedicated artist, living a full life (although now somewhat restricted by her age) and her work reflects the breadth and wholeness of her personal experience through the medium of international expressionism. The paintings that are still stacked in her coastal studio and Rome store, ranging over fifty years, reflect that expressionist dynamic, finding a place between the gravitas of Roman culture and the informality of natural experience.
Lorri Whiting’s paintings are arresting, rugged, even eruptive, and her sculptural origins are evident in their gestural, collaged and structured surfaces. On one level they defy time and place, their tartan-like colours evocative of her Scottish heritage. They are things in themselves, beautifully made, part and parcel of the possibilities of their mediums, pulsating with their own integrity. Their taut inner strength is visually and spiritually akin to the metaphor and meaning of her husband B.R. Whiting’s poetry, as in the concluding lines of his poem, The Wanderer:
And staying in his proper buoyancy
He does not swing with, he becomes the tide.
This connection between the texture of her abstract paintings and the emotional space of his poetry adds another dimension to her work. For their passion for action was shared and they were endlessly exploring new waters and mountains - from the Mediterranean to the Matterhorn. From the time they built their own boat, the Servyn, they sailed every year from Cala Galera to the Azores.
A painter married to a poet extends the possibility of appreciating their respective works. Her paintings have a similar effect of battling the elements - of ripping, surging, furrowing and churning through waves (and snow); of floating, swinging, heeling and balancing; and of gazing into the nights; plumbing the depths. For Lorri, painting and sport are equally necessary, a fusion of being and doing. Her abstraction is done in tandem with nature rather than from or after nature.
Her impulsive nature, intuitive way of thinking, strong arms and hands had led her initially into sculpture which she studied at RMIT. Her dyslexia (a condition not clearly recognised at the time, and a source of difficulty for her in her formative years) may have been an element in her decision to study art. She left Australia in 1952 - to escape her parents as much as her sense of cultural isolation. By 1955 she and her husband were in Italy - “We went for a weekend and stayed for forty years” – and settled in Rome. However, for various reasons, she soon abandoned sculpture and gravitated to painting, which she has practised ever since.
In Rome, Lorri and Bertram, her ‘soldier-courtier-poet’ husband (after war service in New Guinea he had been ADC to the Governor of Bengal, the future Lord Casey) made their home in Trastevere, a centre for artists and intellectuals. And when B.R.Whiting died in 1988, she gave their apartment, studio and library to the Literature Board of the Australia Council in his memory, as a residence for writers and artists.
Lorri and Bertram were an impressive couple – both of them tall, handsome, lively, original, hospitable and independent. And they had an extraordinary group of friends: these writers, artists, filmmakers and critics included Christopher Fry, Stanley Moss, Mark Rothko, John Huston, Peter Finch, Anthony Quinn, Eric Estorich, Roland Penrose, Prof G.C.Argan and Cesare Vivaldi.
Lorri pursued her calling within a sophisticated artistic milieu; exhibiting when the timing was right, always in good galleries; and selling her work, mainly in London and Milan. A natural conversationalist, she had the ideal conditions for discovering her own visual language of colour abstraction.
Bertram’s words again, in Smile Please, can form a fitting conclusion and summation of Lorri Whiting’s life work as an artist:
It was allotted to me from the start –
It has the time and energy to spare –
Its shape is shadow and its hands are strong –
Its lips are drawn back, and the teeth are bare.
Felicity St John Moore
Hon Fellow, Fine Arts, The University of Melbourne.