from the editor's desk

Lorri Whiting

Waves, Mountains, Wings and Sails

On Lorri Whiting, an Expatriate Woman Artist

Kevin Brophy

Part One

April 2015

Lorri Whiting, eighty-eight years old, in a bright marine jacket bulky enough to withstand storms at sea, was waiting for us at the Orbetello train station. We had travelled two hours north from Rome to meet her. She was sitting in her new red Citroën, elbow at the open driver’s window, walking stick snug against her on the inside of the door, and the gear stick close up to her bulky body through the layers of clothes. She waved us into the car. Immediately I felt included in her world.

Behind her on the back seat was her dog, whose name we soon learned was ‘Nuvolo’: a British Bulldog with a squash-faced, wheezing, snorting, overwhelmingly physical presence. She waved her arm back telling him to move over as Andrea slid in beside him. I climbed in the front seat.

‘Meet Nuvolo,’ Lorri announced. Her deep Australian voice rumbled along with the engine, telling us that ‘nuvolo’ was Italian for ‘cloud’, and that Cloudy was the code name of a resistance fighter in the north of Italy during the Second World War. When Lorri had moved to Rome in 1955, Nuvolo (Giorgio Nascani) was one among a new generation of radical artists experimenting with the use of fabric, deerskin and raw materials in abstract collages on canvas. I would learn later that she had exhibited with him in her first Italian shows. Nuvolo had introduced her to the versatile ‘seriotipie’ method of screen-printing, which he had developed from his roots in the Umbrian town of Città di Castello, a centre for innovative printing techniques since the fifteenth century. Nuvolo, the artist, had died in 2008, so his code name had been taken up and honoured by Lorri’s beloved bulldog.

We were on our way to have lunch at Lorri’s favourite local ristorante beside a small beach at the bay of Porto Ercole, said to be the town where Caravaggio died in 1610, and a town now proud of its annual pirate festival. On one arm of the small harbour, the remains of the Spanish six-pointed star of Forte Stella nudged out above a forested slope. When we arrived Roberto, the ristorante owner, greeted Lorri as an old friend. She spoke with him in her broad, Australian-inflected fluent Italian. Lorri, I soon discovered, was not only a woman with an impressively bohemian and physical presence, but she had a quick and powerful mind coming at you in non-stop stories, questions, propositions, technical information, memories—with sudden asides to Nuvolo settled beside her, cooling himself on the floor tiles by spreading belly and legs as wide as possible.

As I listened to her I could hear occasionally the oval vowels of a slightly anglicised Australian accent coming through in ways that created echoes of her brother’s voice so familiar to a particular generation of Australian followers of politics and public issues. ‘Malcolm,’ she said, ‘Yes, we didn’t share many interests or values. But as he got older he seemed to adopt a lot of my thinking and my values. He was all right. We had good times together as children. Did you know him?’ I had to confess to having regarded him at one time as the destroyer of Australian democracy, but then later admired him as a lone voice of reason and compassion in public life. ‘He visited me a few times,’ she said, ‘but we didn’t have much to say to one another. I heard he had done something dramatic in politics in Australia. Oh well.’

We had come to Orbetello to thank Lorri for the donation of her Rome apartment to the Australia Council, which administers residencies there for poets. I was at the beginning of a six-month residency in the apartment. The lounge wall in the apartment was dominated by a large abstract artwork by Lorri. It was a collage of roughly cut triangles jostling for space within their frame, coloured in the complex steely-blue and green tones of the sea. The image was packed with energy. Lorri had lived in this apartment for thirty years with her husband Bertie Whiting, poet, adventurer and journalist, until his death in 1988. Many of their books survived in the apartment’s small library.

She brushed aside the matter of her generosity and talked about Bertie. More than twenty years after his death, emotions remained strong and difficult for her. He died too young. His poetry hadn’t been published enough or appreciated enough. He would have written a lot more poetry if his life hadn’t been taken from him. Her gift of her apartment to poets was in honour of Bertie, in the hope that future poets might find opportunities he didn’t. He would have grown as a poet, she said. They would have seen to this together, as they saw to everything else, including the building of their varnished glass-fibre yacht, the bee hives they had tended on the plains of Victoria’s Wimmera country in the late 1940s, and later as they managed living in remote English woodlands without running water, often close to gypsy camps.

At their Trastevere apartment in Rome, they had carried the pieces of a kit for their yacht up in a lift barely big enough to hold two people. What wouldn’t go in the lift they had taken up the stairs, until their neighbour tenants, Lorri said, were thoroughly sick of them. When she needed advice on a boat-building problem Lorri would take a bottle of brandy to the shipyards. ‘You can get a lot of advice from a bottle of brandy,’ she let me know.

Lunch at Porto Ercole was finished according to Lorri’s style too, with brandy-laced coffees as we looked out over the bay. Enclosed by the forested arms of the slopes on either side, small working boats of local fishing families bobbed before us on a calm, clear Mediterranean Sea.

On our return to the train station after that first meeting, I took my turn in the back seat. Nuvolo wasted no time mounting up against the side of my body. He pushed me against the door, almost suffocating me with his meaty breath and sweaty dog hormones—an overpowering dog stink emanating from him. It could have been friendliness or it could have been the kind of over-friendliness that announces who is top dog in this little gathering. I wound the window down and hung my head out and held my breath for as long as I could between gulps of air. Lorri told us it cost too much, thirty euros, to have Nuvolo bathed and that he had a psychiatrist named Barbara. Lorri said that on one of their earliest sailing trips she and Bertie had sailed round Corsica. ‘You can smell it,’ she said, ‘but the wine isn’t the best.’ A small war of resistance developed in the back seat as I set my arm as a barrier to Nuvolo’s attentions.

Through the decades, a good number of the poets in residence at the apartment in Trastevere had come to see her but she remembered clearly only one of them, Anthony Lawrence. He was the wild and charming one, the one who had parties, who put her up in the apartment once when she was in Rome, and maybe reminded her of Bertie’s exuberance and his love of having crowds of visitors in the apartment.

She told us that when she and Bertie held parties, she had a particular hour when she went to bed no matter who was visiting or how well the party was going. She would get up, announce it was her bedtime and disappear into her bedroom. For her, the highest priority was to be ready to go back to work in her studio the next day.

In 2015, Lorri still had her yacht tied up at Marina Carla Galera around the point from Porto Ercole, and still planned to put together a small crew to sail it under her command on another Mediterranean adventure soon. It might, she said, be her last time out on the sea. She began to talk of the yacht’s beauty, its design, the reasons they built it the way they did, strange crew members she had sailed with over the past twenty years, the wine and spirits they found to drink at each port.

During those six months in residence at the Rome apartment, Andrea and I visited Lorri regularly, and stayed for an extended time in the nearby town of Orbetello, learning the layout of the coastal area known as the Marremma by riding bicycles along the shoreline and across the peninsulas of a series of once Etruscan and later Roman settlements.

After one of our lunches at the marina where her yacht was harboured, we saw her off in her red car with Nuvolo packed in beside her, and followed her out on our bicycles. At the gate to the entrance we discovered she had sideswiped her car on a post, losing her entire side mirror. It didn’t matter much, she announced, only a mirror, and no harm done to anyone. Lorri had such a confident style and such an aura of strength about her that it was easy to dismiss the incident as she had. But as it turned out, over the next year she discovered she had been virtually blind in her right eye for some time and the other was losing sight too.

Though she did go out on her yacht with two sailing companions for that last voyage in 2015, coming back exhilarated and exhausted, the next four years would mean an increasingly reduced world for her as she gradually lost most of her sight and the good use of one of her knees. She would become almost wholly reliant on the friends and helpers around her in her home.

Over that time, Lorri took to ringing me at my Australian home in Melbourne with news of her life, memories of her childhood and thoughts on art and sailing, and with questions to me about the short fiction pieces she was trying to write. The calls came at least weekly and sometimes every few days.

Gradually I understood that Lorri had worked among the most advanced and influential abstract artists in Rome during the 1950s and 60s, and that her own record of single-person exhibitions in Rome, New York, London and many other places was evidence of a life lived in total commitment to her art, and with remarkable achievements along the way that might not come to the notice of art historians or a wider public, particularly in Australia. I formed the idea that I might write about her art.

Lorri, though, was focused on her next creative pursuit, which was her exploration of the possibilities of writing the short fictional pieces based on her sailing experiences. I understood this as the necessary outlet for a woman whose physical ability to paint was severely diminished, but whose creative impulses remained strong and lively. I offered to edit her fiction while I listened to her talk of her life in art—and took what notes I could.

March 2019

Andrea and I have returned to Orbetello to see Lorri again, and the world is a different place. Both my parents have died in their nineties, we’ve spent two years living in a remote Aboriginal community on the edge of Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert while Andrea taught there in the local school of the community of Mulan. I have retired from working as an academic. Over these four years of regular talking by phone, Lorri has lost most of her eyesight to glaucoma and one of her knees has become so troublesome that she walks only with great difficulty, using two sticks to probe her way forward. No more driving. No more sailing. She has given her boat to a friend who will use it as a training vessel for new sailors. Roberto, suffering from cancer, has sold his bar at Porto Ercole, much reducing her local circle of acquaintances and hangouts. She hasn’t been able to paint or sculpt or work with wood for some years now. Her turn to imaginative writing continues, though she relies on a friend to type her drafts to send to me by email for comments and editing.

In her first foray into a short story, she imagined that Bertie had faked his death and was away sailing on another boat with new friends. She saw him on this other boat from a distance while at anchor in a bay, and did not know whether she should confront him or let him go. In the most recent story, she acknowledged obliquely that her brother helped pay for her sailing boat and that she feels now that she never adequately thanked him.

When her home on a partly wooded hillside between the towns of Orbetello and Ansedonia nearly burned down in 2016, she was, as she says, ‘so smoked-over they thought it was the end of me.’ She spent nearly three months in hospital after the fire, for some of that time in an induced coma. Her dog Nuvolo has died, replaced by a slightly smaller bulldog, Linus (‘Leenus’). Like Nuvolo, he splays himself on the cool stone floor of her lounge room at the centre of her home, paws out, nose down, snuffling his way through his thoughts. Like Nuvolo, he is loved and valued simply for being alive and being himself. Lorri has a number of women who look after her—Sigrun who has lived with her for many years and does the cooking, Didi who takes care of her accounts and walks Linus, Claudia who drives for her, and some others who come and go as they are needed, including a neighbour who delivers firewood and does some gardening. It seems to work for now.

She is determined to believe that her sight in at least one eye will recover sufficiently for her to read and write once more, even if she will never drive again. She speaks of her life as she might of her beautiful boat, sitting at its tiller: ‘It will turn out all right,’ she says, ‘but I might not have enough time for it to turn. It needs to turn smartly if I’m going to be alive when it turns.’

We have come hoping to see more of her paintings and screen-prints, hear more of her memories and generally spend time with her. She has more than two hundred paintings wrapped in bubble-plastic housed in a shipping container in her back yard. Many of these were painted in the 1960s, a few never exhibited, some not yet signed and dated.

We will be staying for two weeks at an apartment in the horse-riding school beside Lorri’s semi-rural home.

On the second morning of our visit, Lorri told me that Ugo was coming to see her. Ugo might or might not own an art gallery nearby. He is interested, he says, in two of her paintings. When he arrives in a white van large enough to take dozens of paintings, he has a young assistant with him and they go out to the shipping container where they sort through her pictures until they find two that are suitable. One picture is nearly two metres high, the other much smaller. Both paintings feature her hallmark sail-like or wing-like triangles of paper cut-outs glued to canvas, one of these featuring black wings on a bright yellow background, the other more complex in structure and more layered in its colouring. Both paintings seem to me to draw their dramatic effects from the handling of the darker tones, especially black and grey. The paintings need to be signed but we discover that Lorri cannot see them. We don’t know whether she should use a biro or a large marker-pen, or whether she should sign them on the front or the back, or even how she should sign them. Eventually each painting is brought to her lap where she prints ‘Lorri’ on the back of each canvas with a black marker. Ugo, wearing a grey t-shirt with the word OBEY across it, leaves with the paintings and apparently a promise that he has a buyer for them. Lorri is pleased that someone is looking at her work and might even buy it, but the details of the transaction seem murky. No percentages, no commission, no prices were discussed, and the beautiful paintings are now gone. I ask her how she feels about this. She says that one cannot spend one’s life worrying about money. Money is such a small matter when you have enough to get by on. It is difficult to imagine the affectionate and charming Ugo not coming back with payment for Lorri.

I ask her if these paintings have titles and she says they don’t, that she never knew what it is was she was painting in any case. But she has said the opposite about her paintings as well—namely that they can’t escape being about something. ‘I did have an idea of what I wanted,’ she adds, ‘but it was the triangles that came through.’

Her simple printed signature of ‘Lorri’ on her work does not indicate a childish diminution of her powers or a lingering Australian informality but rather her decades-long commitment to making for herself an Italian identity. She adopted the painting-name of Lorri in the late 1940s, wanting hers to chime with the names of those writers and artists she admired and whose names were recognised immediately as Italian, such as Buzatti, Angeli, Turcato, Franchino. Nuvolo, Rotella, or Consagra. ‘Lorri’ was simple, sounded Italian and was hopefully memorable; it seemed to work in the new world of Rome’s avant garde abstract artists of the ‘new materiality’ (Celant 13-19).

In March 2019, Lorri had just secured Italian citizenship after years of moving her application through the bureaucracy. It was important to her. It signified a final step away from Australia and towards Italy where her work might, she hoped, be remembered and understood as European. It wasn’t that she had a career plan, though.  It seems to me that all along she made only those decisions about her art that felt right to her, whether they were strategic or not. Becoming an Italian citizen seemed to have a lot to do with following her own heart.

As well as becoming more and more interested in how history might perceive her contribution and her legacy as a woman abstract artist in Europe, I was also increasingly aware of the difficulties Lorri created for herself, first by her separation from her family, and then compounding this by her failure to visit Australia again or develop an ongoing presence as an Australian artist. Lorri made it clear over the course of our talking that her chosen life far away from Australia in Rome was in part a reaction to what she perceived as rejection from her childhood family.

Lorraine was born in 1927 into the Fraser family. Her father Neville (1890-1962), an officer in the British Army during World War I, was owner of the New South Wales Riverina grazing property of Balpool-Nyang until 1944 and then Nareen in Western Victoria. Neville had studied law at Oxford and at the University of Melbourne. Lorri’s mother, Una Woolf (1902-1998) fell in love with Neville, then a Melbourne barrister, after meeting him at a party on the British battleship, Repulse. After marrying in 1926, they departed for Balpool-Nyang with Una’s grand piano. Three and a half years after Lorri’s arrival, their son Malcolm was born.

Una was said to be a woman of beauty, cultivation and education who supposed that if she had not married she would have become a concert pianist or an actress (Jones np). Instead, she raised two children among ‘plagues of locusts, mice, frogs, droughts, floods […] the lot’ (Ayres 8). After becoming a widow, she moved to live in South Yarra, from where she attended art history lectures at the University of Melbourne and became a noted local collector of Anglo-Irish glassware. She mixed not just with the city’s social élite, which was expected of her, but also with Melbourne’s more edgy circles of artists and intellectuals (Fraser and Simons 30). Though Neville might have been wary of his wife’s interest in art, he had once had something of the modish devil in him. In his early thirties he had imported and driven fast French racing cars, coming to police notice for selling one to the notorious gangster Squizzy Taylor.

In the two major biographies of Malcolm Fraser, Lorri is recognised only in the context of the future Prime Minister’s childhood. Mostly she is noted as an absence. In 1933, as a six-year-old, Lorri was sent to board at St Catherine’s school in Melbourne, nearly 300 kilometres away from the isolated family property at Balpool. In her 2010 biographical study of Malcolm Fraser, Margaret Simons wrote that Una found the six-year-old Lorri ‘uncontrollable’, and worse, she was leading young Malcolm astray (17-18). ‘She was already set in her ways,’ Philip Ayres reports Una saying in his 1987 biography of Fraser, ‘with an inclination to rebel against any authority, so that ordinary everyday affairs were apt to become matters of argument. When Malcolm fell in happily with any arrangements at all he became a very easy child to live with and tremendously loving and affectionate’ (8-9). This apparently straightforward description of temperamental differences between the siblings might be aimed at deflecting attention from the dramatic change in the family dynamics at this time.

It is possible to imagine the three-and-a-half-year-old Malcolm witnessing those arguments between Lorri and her parents, and understanding that the consequence was the disappearance of his sister from the family. Philip Ayres writes, ‘After Lorri went to boarding school the only other child nearby was the rabbiter’s daughter, Girlie Brown, who was four years older and sometimes played with Malcolm. Apart from her, no other children visited, and normally there were no strangers about’ (8-9). When Una Fraser told Philip Ayres that for a while she was afraid Malcolm was not a fighter, ‘as he never persisted in trying to get his own way,’ (9) it is possible the young and dramatically isolated Malcolm was well aware that the consequence of resisting his parents would be just such an early banishment to boarding school as his sister had suffered. It is possibly no surprise that for Malcolm as a child, when he was disappointed by something, ‘there was always acceptance of a verdict and he would drop the subject’ (Ayres 8-9).

Perhaps this situation throws a light on how difficult and important it might have been for Malcolm Fraser, leader of the opposition in the federal parliament in 1975, to find in himself the strength of individual conviction required to unseat a powerful Prime Minister and a sitting Labor Government that he thought had gone beyond its mandate.

Lorri recalls arguments and beatings. She returns often to the fact that when she was a year old her parents went away for a grand tour of Europe, leaving her with her grandparents. She remembers ‘getting what we called thrashings. My mother said once, you just do it again afterwards and I said yes, that’s to teach you it does no good to thrash me. But they didn’t learn.’

Una and Neville, unable to learn this lesson from their daughter, must have felt they had no choice but to send Lorri to boarding school at St Catherine’s and later to Toorak College in Frankston, where Lorri refused to do schoolwork. Lorri remembers feeling tiny at boarding school: ‘At thirteen I decided not to pass any more exams. It was a bad decision. I changed as I grew up, but you don’t grow up all that much.’

When Lorri speaks of her brother, it is with affection for him and admiration for his more personal and private qualities. He was a fine horseman, a good wood turner, and when it was possible a valued childhood companion on the Edward River that bordered the Balpool property. ‘My brother died,’ she said one afternoon as we sat by the sea at Roberto’s cafe. ‘This tall serious statesman, he died. I didn’t really know him. My sister-in-law came over [to Italy] to see if I was all right. I’m sorry I didn’t know him. I think it’s a mistake to have your children separated. I was at boarding school from six years of age. He was sent boarding when he was twelve. They said he was delicate. We had a nice time whenever we were together, galloping horses and chasing sheep and cattle and what not. We had a river nearby. It was lovely, with a place to lie on the bank. I have a few things he made, a bowl carved from Lignum Vitae and another out of a wood used for aeroplane propellers. They did their best with me but I was a bit of an outcast.’

The most valued childhood times were when she was out horse riding, often with her brother. At about twelve she became lost on her horse in the 2000-hectare forest beside their property. ‘I put the reins down,’ she said, ‘and waited, and the horse took me home. I had been lost. It was a strange feeling being lost.’ This is a story she will return to over and over again, as though she can never quite make sense of the significance of that feeling of being lost. Once, after re-telling the episode, she reflected that though a horse might take you home, you can’t sleep with it.

She and Malcolm kept up a warm and comfortable though spasmodic correspondence through the decades. (He admitted in one letter that he was ‘a lousy correspondent’.) He hung her artwork prominently in his office and his home. Some of Lorri’s letters to Malcolm and Tam survive in the Fraser archive held at the University of Melbourne. Lorri’s letters flow with the same ease and poise of timing as her spoken voice, mostly ignoring punctuation but always making perfect sense. Her dry wit and her willingness to play the scandalising sister are on display when she weaves stories from her frequent confessions to him that really she has little of interest to write about. In one of these letters, she writes for instance of their then two bulldogs away with them on a skiing holiday where the dogs were fighting with each other. Their vet had prescribed tranquilisers for the dogs, and after repeated phone calls to the vet, with doses of expensive tranquilisers increasing, Lorri found the solution was for her to down the tranquilisers along with the dogs. She copies out jokes for Malcolm, and sometimes prods him to be a better correspondent: ‘Let us know what your news is when you have time you can always dictate a letter or better still force the wife to write to keep us up with your movements—without necessarily doing anything that fills the daily newspapers as that might be in the long run very tiring’ (27 March, 1972). Lorri’s visual imagination is put to use too in commenting upon the Fraser family’s recreational pursuits: ‘We gather you go water skiing. It must take a biggish motor to get Mal going’ (19 February, 1972). I sat in the compulsory silence of the archive reading room of the university snorting and chuckling over her letters to the distress of some serious researchers there.

Lorri is a storyteller with ready anecdotes that can be brisk in the telling then can slow you down as you go back over them. ‘When I was about fourteen’, she told me once, ‘I fell from a horse and it kicked a hole in my head. Its name was Tango. They talked about a change in my personality but my mother said that the hole in my head didn’t matter too much because I was a girl.’ On sailing, Lorri has many observations to make, often to do with the freedom and rare power she felt when out at sea: ‘I actually won one regatta,’ she admitted, ‘and that was enough because they’re a bore. You sail off and you end up back in the same place—in time for lunch. It’s all right for Sunday sailors but I want to get somewhere when I sail.’ From her childhood there are sometimes vivid images of scenes most of us would not want to remember: ‘I remember as a child the crows picking eyes out of sheep’. She recalls finding a broken boomerang on the forest floor. Not knowing then what this was she took it home and asked her parents. They dismissed her find and told her they did not want to hear her talk about it again. Lorri can patch together a powerful story from a few broad-brush sentences that might seem at first to be a sequence of strange non sequiturs: ‘They asked me if I wanted a coming-out party. I didn’t want to dance and I didn’t take drugs. I didn’t want to ruin my head, what I had of it.’

April 2015

I told her during one of our visits that we had been tending to Bertie’s grave at the beautiful Cemetery for Non-Catholics and Foreigners in Rome, where Bertie was buried close to Antonio Gramsci. We had pulled out a pine sapling threatening to tear Bertie’s grave apart. We had carried some pansies from the nearby grave of John Keats and dug them in around Bertie. She complained that she was paying a lot to have his grave cared for but she could no longer make the trip to Rome.

‘We met at a dance in a big house,’ she said. ‘He thought I spoke French. We married at twenty-one and twenty-four and went bee-keeping. It wasn’t sensible. This was South Australia and Gippsland and the Little Desert. We sold out and moved back to Melbourne. We looked like tramps and I suppose we were. Bertie had been in the army and they taught him to eat snakes in case one day he happened to need to eat them. At one stage we discussed starting up a snake farm. We would have had to wear boots and gaiters. We thought we would sell the skins and bottle the rest as serpent meat. We went to the Dandenongs and then to England to a cottage with a well that for some reason didn’t freeze in winter. We had no hot water. The gypsies were nearby and they never stole from us. We always gave them flowers. In England, I had a house and six pounds a week, and I was a sculptor.’

When Lorri met Bertie Whiting, he was, as Jon Stallworthy described him in the foreword to Bertie’s Lost on the Sea poetry collection, a ‘large laughing man […] decorated, witty and handsome’ (Whiting 4). A Paratrooper Captain who had lied about his age in order to enlist in the Australian Army in 1939, he had fought through the New Guinea Campaign, then in 1945 was appointed Aide-de-Camp to the Governor of Bengal, R. G. Casey, later to become Australia’s sixteenth Governor General. Fearing Gandhi might be assassinated in the turmoil leading to Indian independence Bertie Whiting urged Casey and Lord Mountbatten to appoint him bodyguard to Gandhi. Gandhi refused.

Bertie began writing poetry seriously in the early 1960s, and his first poem was titled ‘Gandhi, 1946’. It is a poem that comes with a suspicion of authority and charisma, a poem too that offers the poet as a physical presence, but one detached enough to absorb the subtleties and seeming contradictions of experience. A decade and a half after his encounter with Gandhi he was still, it seemed, wondering what it was that drew him to the man and what it was that motivated him to make his offer of protection, and what might be the meaning of ‘strength’ in the context of Gandhi’s and Bertie’s lives. Gandhi was murdered in 1948 as he mingled without a bodyguard among the public.

Did you like him? No. What was it, then?
He had a memorable laugh.
Did you like his disciples? No, not at all,
They had the vestry air.
Yet you remember him? Oh yes, unforgotten
The bright eye and the paper light
Hand on my arm when I walked with him.
Only that? No, time has eaten away
The resentment at a power
That presumed on my arm for its strength,
And now I like to think
How, after I had escorted him to the car,
The Khitmugar came up
To ask permission, if he might touch that arm.

(Whiting 5)

Between 2015 and 2019, I listened to Lorri tell the story of her husband’s dying over the course of many phone calls. She could recount the details as though they were there fixed within frames before her—and she did not look away. She has the artist’s faith in the importance of the gaze, perhaps under a conviction that only by looking and keeping looking can we understand or overcome what is most painful.

‘Bertie’s cerebellum was shrinking. A rare disease. Nothing to be done. By 1982, it got noticeable. A neurologist said he couldn’t do much for him. He had to see a doctor in Rome but he told so many lies the doctor couldn’t know what was wrong with him. He told the doctor he was a parachutist and had fallen on his head. Not true. He said he’d been knocked out boxing repeatedly but he might have been knocked out once, if that. He always threw in some lies. I had to get him to see a psychiatrist. From 1987 to 1988, there was nothing much I could do. Bertie kept telling lies until one clever neurologist made sure I was present when he asked him questions. I only corrected Bertie once. He claimed to be sexually active, but he hadn’t been for years.

‘He became too sick to sail and he couldn’t walk properly. I had to do it all myself, up the mast, tie the ropes, stay on the tiller. But I was greatly relieved when he stopped and I could become the skipper.

‘He was eventually in a wheelchair so we couldn’t go out any more. So many things he couldn’t do. I had to go out and walk off my problems by myself. Then he couldn’t hold a fork. Hell. He had been a strong man. It was a bloody awful thing to happen to a man so active and strong. I found my neighbour leading him around one day. He couldn’t speak by then.

‘There was no cure and there is still no cure. A neurologist said there was nothing much we could do except for me to inject him with folic acid every day. It was ghastly. There was no future and nothing to be done. It’s well over now.  One doctor asked if I wanted a fatal injection for him but I think Bertie really didn’t want to die. He asked for a gun but all I would do was set a plastic bag in his way. He could use that if he wanted but I couldn’t give him a gun. I did all I could to keep him alive though I wanted him to die. I must take my mind away from Bertie.

‘Bertie was more a poet than a journalist or a beekeeper. Christopher Fry was in Rome writing a film and we had him for dinner. I showed him Bertie’s Gandhi poem and Christopher said, ‘It’s a poet you are.’ The beekeeping was a mistake. It was a waste of time. He was hoping to make a lot of money from it but bees can be difficult. Bertie was a smarter man than me but he didn’t have intuition—he had to be told or he had to read about something before he could understand.

‘Houses have been important to me but I got married to a wandering bee keeper. I didn’t want to have a family because I knew I would be left holding the baby. Picasso didn’t have children. The women he was with had the children. I didn’t want my movement to be stopped. I wouldn’t have liked it. They cry all night too, you know. Bertie would have left me at home to go out and have fun. We did talk about it, but no, I didn’t want that.’

It might be that having turned her back on her family and country, to lose her close and necessary companion in Bertie, was to confront the fragility of her situation and the irreversible consequences of choices made along the way. Much in our lives is taken out of our hands by circumstances, which can mean those choices we have made in our youth so easily seem too decisive, too impulsive, too important to have been left in the hands of our young selves. Though, as we know, as soon as we begin to go back over everything, for most of us most of the time we find we would not have wanted to live any other life than the one we have been dealt. Lorri’s telling and re-telling of Bertie’s last years seems the one part of her life she cannot quite come away from.

Part Two

June 2019

Lorri Whiting’s life in art is a story that is far from over. Lorri’s paintings are distributed across the globe, sometimes recognised as examples of twentieth century modern Italian art, sometimes as the work of an outlier Australian painter, and sometimes as part of the international movement of abstract women painters of the mid to late twentieth century (see Ward 1991; Whiting 1985). She built a reputation as an abstract artist who makes use of collage, working with techniques closer to abstract expressionism than the later colour field artists. The boom decades for abstract art in Europe were between 1942 and 1969. The exponents were of course mostly men. Women, though, might have found themselves moving towards abstract art ‘precisely because it masked personal identity’ (Schjeldahl np).

In Lorri’s own history, there was the added element of her interest in sculpture. She had enrolled to study sculpture at RMIT, and was there from 1945–1947. She worked mainly on iron casting in foundries. These were the years that RMIT produced the Australian-American modernist Clement Meadmore, famous for his monumental cast iron abstract metal bars twisted as if liquorice sticks. Like Meadmore, Whiting began her studies and continued with an enduring interest in furniture design, always with a keen eye for the qualities of different kinds of wood. She says that she stopped studying because she married Bertie Whiting. They left for England in 1952 after her first and remarkably successful one-woman exhibition in Melbourne.

Following the substantial sales of works from that exhibition, she remembers her father saying, ‘Do you think they [the buyers] would have paddled down there and bought those paintings if they weren’t friends of ours?’ For her, this has always been a major reason for pursuing her career in Europe, and her continuing reason over those years for not returning to Australia. Shortly after arriving in London she had another successful exhibition where again she sold most of her paintings. Her father expressed open bewilderment over this. ‘Wasn’t it James Joyce,’ Lorri often repeated to me, ‘who said silence, exile and cunning are what an artist needs? Well, I was exiled and I worked in silence but perhaps I was not cunning.’ [1]

In her influential 1971 essay ‘Why Are There No Great Women Artists?’, Linda Nochlin reminds her readers that women artists were more or less tolerated up until the 1960s (with the exception of the extraordinary Rosa Bonheur) because painting was a relatively quiet activity that disturbed no-one. On the other hand, the noisy tools and muscular nature of sculpture was never a preferred form of expression for young women. Lorri’s early interest in sculpture was an indication that she would take whatever path excited her, and never the path she should ‘sensibly’ or strategically take as a woman.

As one of her own examples of not being cunning, she remembers Peggy Guggenheim once asking for one of her paintings. Lorri refused to hand one over unless Guggenheim offered something for it. Even ten pounds would have done. Foolish and un-cunning. But she could be canny at times. Before leaving Melbourne, she had bought a Cy Twomby work for $60. In Rome she sold it for $50,000 to make it possible to buy a studio on the floor below her apartment in Tuscany.

She found herself in Rome in 1955 at the moment of the Arte Informale movement, under the provocative influence of Lucio Fontana’s ‘experimental research’, in which he scored blank canvases with a Stanley knife or stabbed them with a steel spike, opening, as he said, a void into eternity and thus destroying the usual conventions of art while making highly expressive gestural objects. This movement’s aim, which was ‘to make art by any means’ (Fontana interview), had found its brief international florescence with Jackson Pollock in New York in the late 1940s. In Italy, and in Rome in particular, there was an acute awareness of Expressionism and Action painting in the United States, encouraging moves towards abstraction and new forms of materiality. This radicalism was also in part, in Italy, a visceral reaction against fascism’s exploitation of progressive art. It was an attempt to discover a language for art uncontaminated by politics and ideology.

These impulses would also shape the Italian Arte Povera (‘impoverished art’) movement of the 1960s (Christov-Bakargiev), which broadly influenced Lorri’s work. The Arte Povera artists brought their use of materials to the fore, mixing industrial and natural products and blurring boundaries between art and sculpture. Giovanni Anselmo’s Struttura che mangia (‘Structure that Eats’, 1968) is one of the most vivid works from this period: a head of lettuce jammed between two blocks of granite wired together. As the lettuce decomposes it falls between the stone blocks and must be replaced if the artwork is to continue to ‘live’. Lorri has a black painting by Giulio Turcato (1912–1995) on her lounge room wall across from where she usually sits. This is one of Turcato’s neo-dadaist Tranquillanti works from the very early 1960s, inspired by the Arte Povera impulse to make use of everyday materials and incorporate the movement of real time into artworks. There are five anti-depressant pills embedded in the thickly painted canvas. The pills are now deteriorating, some of them showing their pale powdery surfaces through ruptures in the black paint. Lorri tests her failing eyesight each day by counting the number of pills she can pick out.

‘When we got to Rome,’ Lorri said, ‘the people were a bit like us, artists and writers. It was good for us. I exhibited in London. My work was exhibited with de Chirico, Severini and Modigliani. We met a great number of artists. It was good to meet people who were doing what you were doing. I painted most days. My dentist used to take paintings for work he did on my teeth.’ By 1959, Bertie had contributed a catalogue essay for Nuvolo’s first solo exhibition at Galleria Trastevere, an exhibition that attracted Peggy Guggenheim and the inspirational Alberto Burri (1915–1995) among other important artists and critics (Celant 150–151). Bertie wrote that Nuvolo’s excellence as an artist resided in his ‘entirely natural acceptance’ (quoted in Celant 151) of what would have been for an earlier generation an extreme experimental attitude. This naturalness extended emphatically to Lorri’s work at this time.

Two other factors, perhaps, took Lorri Whiting in the direction of abstract art. Her husband was, in his own heart and in Lorri’s estimate, essentially a poet. Lorri remains committed to Bertie’s poetry, and in the world of abstract art it is the suggestive power and seductive pull of shapes and colours that provide meaning, just as in poetry it is the sounds, underlying rhythmic effects, incidental linguistic symmetries and contrasts that bring inchoate but finely nuanced shades of feeling to work that need not be realist or conventional. Lorri identifies herself as dyslexic (‘Bertie was the reader’, she reminds me when I ask her about what she used to read), perhaps giving her an advantage in appreciating the powers that poetry can have beyond paraphrase. This unconventional stance she shared with Bertie might have turned her that much more easily away from representation towards the less determined, less certain and more precarious expressions that abstract art uncovers.

In her slightly nonplussed way, as if the question had not occurred to her before, Lorri says that turning to abstract art at that time was ‘just a natural thing that happened. Figurative art had gone a long way and I was an artist of my time too. We have all gone back a little since then.’ As usual there are many steps in her thinking that I’m left to fill in, taking into account for instance her full and instinctive commitment to art as a young woman along with her unwillingness to inflate her achievements—and her understanding now, in her late years, that what she did, she did on impulse and with youthful energy but without a career plan.

Finally, it is difficult to fully appreciate Lorri’s artwork without understanding that she is a sailor. The shapes in her works from the 1970s on, the movement across them, their torn and stormy surfaces, the sharp and slanted angles that suggest sails, mountains and waves, the very idea of torn canvas, all speak of the sea, of ships, yachts, wind, islands and weather. Her colours too rise from the elements of ocean, sky and sleekly modern sea craft.

Her regimen of painting every day was testament to her seriousness as an artist and to her belief that only in a life of working at her art could she achieve something original. ‘I don’t think I’m religious but I do have things I believe in,’ she told me one afternoon, running with her thoughts in the understated, ironic way she has of developing a half-comic but still more than half-serious monologue circling through issues that have preoccupied her for decades:

I believe for instance that people should go sailing. Sailing opens your mind. You see other countries and meet other people. Failing that, I believe people should have an interest. I guess it’s easy to take drugs but maybe you should do a thing that’s not easy. If you don’t have an interest, you’re poor even if you’re rich.

The poet and critic, Emilio Villa, who returned to Rome in the 1960s after working with South American concrete poets, spoke at her first Rome exhibition. He offered her and other artists critical advice. Lorri remembers that the advice he gave her about art was always sound: ‘mostly he said shut yourself up and work.’

The influence of Nuvolo (Giorgio Ascani, 1926–2008) lasted throughout the 1960s. Even now, Lorri has a series of abstract collage-canvases by Nuvolo lining the wall along the stairway to her mezzanine bedroom. She must pass the way stations of these paintings every day at least twice, and though she is virtually blind she can tell you what paintings she passes beneath on the stairs. She learned from Nuvolo to use her spatula (or a sponge) as a brush, to base her works on collage techniques, to incorporate materials such as velvet, ribbons, paper and bits of cloth for her studies in motion and colour.

Her canvases from this period tended towards being square or at least adopting the dimensions of a portrait-shaped canvas. Only later did her work demand larger landscape-shaped canvases. In retrospect, the more squared canvases seem modest in contrast to the more rolled-out or extended later canvases. This change in the shape of her canvases was just one of the ways in which she eventually came out from under the influence of Nuvolo to find a creative energy she could own more fully.

When she speaks of influences, it is first W.M. Turner that she mentions. Picasso too, though he wasn’t half the painter Turner was. Hokusai has been important. ‘All water is beautiful’ Lorri said while remembering rowing on the Edward River as a child. Rothko she admired more than most others. In her ascerbic way, she says of him the one thing that perhaps she fears in her own life: ‘I knew Rothko. His wife left him because he’d got old and boring.’ At a dinner in Rome in the early 1970s, she listened to the famous R. Buckminster Fuller speak of triangles as ‘something that will stand up under pressure’. Buckminster Fuller was at that time travelling the world giving lectures on the geodesic dome and many other ideas that might save humanity, a man so busy that he wore three wrist watches, one with the time zone of his next destination, one with his present time, and one with his home time. ‘Yes,’ Lorri thought, ‘triangles. Mountains, sails, waves moving under the sea. It’s a natural shape.’

To produce her new artworks based upon the triangle, Lorri would cut and tear from large sheets of paper, card or canvas upon which she had laid down colours and shapes. These would be glued to a canvas, creating a dynamic slashing of shards and geometric shapes across a work, which could then be painted over again. Stronger and blockier than the abstract expressionist Anne Ryan’s collages, less psychological than the existentialist works of Lygia Clark and Lygia Pape, and less inkily sensual than Helen Frankenthaler’s later colour field paintings, Lorri’s work could hold the energy of an appearance of punched glass in the clubbing of brush against canvas. The impactful physicality of these works lies in the sense one has of an artist standing over her canvas working it with shoulders, hips, elbows and fists.

Lorri moved towards a complexity of surface textures, colours and line in her works from the 1970s onwards with a freedom of movement achieved by learning to trust the broad flow of her strokes. Hers remained a rebellious art arising from a conviction that the essence of a painting’s power lies not in what it represents but in how it lands upon the sensibility of a viewer.

From 1959 until 2010, more than twenty solo exhibitions of her work were held in London, Rome, New York, Melbourne, and in regional galleries across the UK, Italy and Australia. Her years of greatest productivity were the twenty-two years from 1961 to 1983, when she had fourteen solo exhibitions and eleven group exhibitions. Her large masterpiece Kaleidoscope (held in storage at the Charles Nodrum Gallery, Melbourne), painted in 1968, has wild red triangular shards with neon yellow and orange streaked strips of steely canvas on what looks to be a deeply uniform black surface [2]. But when you stand up close to the work, there is no black that’s not singed, warped or enlivened with other colours and shades within it. The surface is as tricky as the surface of the sea or the chaotic evidence winds leave on water or in trees. This shattered effect also creates the impression of a leap across a void. Fittingly for an abstract work, however, it appears one way up on the website archive of the Charles Nodrum Gallery exhibition (2010), and the other way up on the printed catalogue for the same exhibition. It is as if one should, rightly, stand above the work and look down on it, or walk around it, not face it on a wall. Her work bears little in common with cubism’s suggestion of an x-rayed world, nor the colour field painting that occupied many abstract artists in the 1960s. 

Lorri’s abstract art was not produced out of a war-time experience, or out of the angst following revolution, defeat or destruction. This might put her project to one side of the dominant story of mid to late twentieth century European art. Her abstract work, pursued beyond 1968 into the 1980s, might seem as well to be coming into its own beyond the heyday of the form. It can, though, and nearly always does, require decades for an artist to find a style and line that leads to something profound and expressive. Her paintings from this period can operate like visionary kaleidoscopes—suddenly dominating one’s view of a world so transformed that only its colours, edges and energy remain.

March 2019

We are in the backyard of her home on the hillside outside Orbetello, opening the shipping container that holds fifty years of her artwork. Her friend Ugo had housed the container for some time until he assisted her to have it transported to her backyard, where she has had it protected from the weather by a sheltering roof, and protected from curious animals coming out of the forest by a raised floor. It’s early Spring, and we’re enjoying days of bright sunshine even though the air is chilled. Inside the container most of the paintings are covered in taped bubble wrap, more than two hundred of them. Each wrapping is numbered, though the paintings leaning five or six deep on both sides are in no particular order. Our aim is to photograph as many of the works as we can in the time we have left.

We choose the paintings as they come to hand rather than in order of their numbers. Most of them we find are unsigned and un-dated. But the few that are signed and dated—and sometimes titled for an exhibition—offer us indications of the changes in her approach through the 1960s into the early 2000s.

Through the 1960s, Lorri worked mainly with square or near-square canvases in a portrait orientation, often approximately 80cm by 120cm. She painted on paper which was glued, whole, to a canvas backing. The paper was a thick card with a textured weave across the surface. Watermarks showed it to be Murillo Pesante, a paper produced in the mills of Fabriano in the central Italian province of Ancona on the Adriatic Sea. Fabriano’s paper mills have operated since the thirteenth century, with production values so exacting that the Cartiere Miliani Fabriano are one of the very few companies in Europe permitted to produce paper for the creation of Euro notes. The card Lorri chose was heavy, durable, and mould and water resistant—ideal for holding its shape when glued.

There is an early series of works based on dark grey or black swipes made with a squeegee or spatula, leaving traces of bright pink or red, sometimes yellow or white. Lorri explained that she included these mineral colours with her nitrous cellulose mix, but without letting them dissolve, hence they came through as irregular ribbons of intense colour. Lorri painted in a full gas mask (procured from a boat-building yard) to protect herself from the toxic fumes of the highly flammable marine nitro-cellulose (‘It looked like honey’) and the Vinavil adhesive mixed with wallpaper glue for holding the collages down. Lorri could take to such an industrial and physically demanding artisan approach thanks to her background as a sculptor and boat builder. Her paintings, she said, were made of ‘more or less what boats are made of.’

Among these works of the 1960s, there is a series that gives the appearance of being over-sized fragments of calligraphy in a Japanese style. Lorri always kept by her on her boat a hardback copy of Hokusai’s artwork. Sometimes there are patches of fabric glued over the paper, indicating again the influence of Nuvolo and the experimental painters around her at this time.

Lorri’s feel for freed-up movement and a daring, sometimes delicate, use of colour distinguish her work from the more solid and geometric look of Nuvolo’s canvases. We took the paintings one by one from the shipping container, unwrapped each one carefully then placed it on a loose tile from around the yard in a position where the late morning sunlight could fall directly upon it. We then photographed it.  

I realised after a while that the tiles scattered across the backyard were in fact placed carefully to be over those spots where Lorri’s or Sigrun’s dog had left a turd. To discover this was to understand again how seemingly random details of landscapes in Italy are in fact evidence of styles of living, long-held cultural practices, or simple solutions to everyday problems. They might not be the best solutions but they work, and somehow the movement of nature in its own time allows many of these makeshift decisions to be viable. I became careful to move only those tiles where the turds had been pretty well re-absorbed into the soil.

There was one work in particular that drew us to it. The painting we loved was on a square frame. It was signed near the bottom right-hand corner and on the back was a title, ‘Red Ribbon’, though with no date. The background was a mix of scarlet and deep carmine strokes, over which there were three roughly sponged swipes of black paint highlighted by glued-on strips of red velvet ribbon. Along the dark swipes were some fragments of blue and green cotton also glued down. It might have been the way the sunlight threw out at us the richness of the velvet ribbons, the dance of their angles with deep and luxurious reds from the background, that made the painting so exciting to look at. We examined it all ways up, standing back in the yard and admiring it silently. Then we decided to take it inside where we could ask Lorri about it. Once we had it inside, the excitement the sunlight had given it faded, and we found that Lorri could not see it or remember it. She did remember using some of Bertie’s cut-up clothing sometimes on her canvases, but this one she could not remember.

There was another series of works on larger, rectangular canvases executed with a lighter palette, usually making use of a creamy ceramic background. These were collages of irregularly shaped cuts of paper glued to canvas. The most spectacular of these was one titled ‘La Citta’ and dated 1961. The collage was designed as a series of arcs so that the effect was like looking down upon a terra cotta city laid out for a view from above. These works owe a debt to Nuvolo’s ‘Scacchi’ style of screen prints from the late 1950s, but Lorri’s collages move away from the chessboard-style of Nuvolo’s finished works towards a dance of colours and a vortex of energy held within sometimes surprisingly finely shaped abstract compositions.

The largest canvases were those from the 1970s onwards, inspired by Lorri’s passion for the sea and her new interest in the possibilities of the triangle as a robust and natural shape. These compositions often made a feature of the rough-cut edges of paper, chopped swiftly with the blunt side of a knife or a pair of over-sized shears. The white of the edges of the cut murillo card evoked for Lorri the white caps on sea waves. But perhaps more broadly these trails of ribboned paper and dangled edges announced the connection between her art and her life: always energy left over, always a natural product shaped but not processed, and always a solution to the matter of beauty and the question of how to live that was not unlike the random-seeming marble tiles spread across her backyard—a resourcefulness made to gesture towards a fragile present emerging from the overwhelming past.

Each day we spent with her paintings in the backyard, we would come back inside changed by what we had seen but unable to describe to her what had happened to us—beyond saying, every day, that something must be done to preserve these paintings, document them, understand them.

Below her house, at the end of a short staircase beyond the back door, is her studio, a converted boat-building workshop dug out from under her and her neighbour’s houses. For the past four years Lorri has been too blind and too incapacitated by a failing knee (‘the one my mother gave me’ as opposed to the new slick one that surgeons had inserted for her some years ago) to be able to go into her studio. When we went down to the studio we discovered a long rectangular space that had seemingly been left only last night with many works in progress on a series of tables, paint containers still open, jars of brushes, and all sorts of folios, ideas sketched out on paper, piles of posters and catalogues, and larger paintings hung along the walls for inspiration or instruction. Some of the collages based upon triangles had their pieces pinned to the canvas in arrangements that might have change before the glue was administered. Lorri used to prepare these pinned collages and then look at them through a mirror because the mirror-image, she said, would show her defects she couldn’t otherwise see.

The four years of abandonment had dried the paint in the open containers, stiffened her brushes and allowed mould to glue piles of catalogues and posters together as well as some folios of artworks. We rescued a box of seriotipie style screenprints and several smaller works in progress by moving them to a dry shelf closer to the air circulating from a locked entrance to a driveway. This studio needed a curator or an archaeologist to rescue the evidence of her working methods, her documents and her art spread around the space.

June 2019

‘Are you going to finish the essay before I die?’ Lorri asked on the phone last night. I told her I am well into it, though finding an ending for it and stopping-up the many pathways it has taken will be my challenges. One of her most repeated stories is a sailing tale. She had entrusted her boat to one of the crew at night when she went down below to sleep. In the morning her crewman reported that he had been holding to their course when he saw a large yellow object floating on the surface of the sea, becoming larger and larger as he sailed towards it until he made the decision to alter course and try to sail around it. Only then had he realised that it was the moon he was sailing around. Lorri laughs to herself each time she tells the story, appreciating the accidental poetry of the absurd dilemma her diligent crewman faced. If only each one of us each morning could report we had successfully dodged a full moon we might wake pleased with ourselves and ready for any challenge ordinary daytime might bring.

Lorri understands very well the sometimes-lonely waiting game that sailors and artists must play. To be alive to what ideas or visions might come at the mind is the task of the lone sailor as much as the lone artist working in silence. When I asked her about the most important experiences of her life, she said that once she saw two dolphins swim by, leaving behind them silver trails of plankton.

I picture her touching, as she talks, the knot of twisted, rusted hand-made nails hanging from a cord down her front. The nails were given to her by the sculptor Nino Franchina (1912–1988), who one day, she said, drank three or four whiskeys at lunch, collapsed, and never came out of it. He made these nail-blooms for each of his friends who had once broken bones. The nails represent her head broken in the childhood fall from her horse, the ankle broken in a skiing accident and her now troublesome knee which was once split open, though she can’t remember how. These writhing nails, echoes of the crucifixion, figures of survival from an earlier industrial world, each one remembering a broken bone, are always close at hand. Just as there could be no real separation between Lorri and her art, there is no way to unravel these nails.

While this essay was written through a time of close contact with Lorri Whiting, she died as the first part of this essay was in preparation for printing. Lorri was buried in the same tomb as Bertie at the Rome Cemetery for Foreigners and Non-Catholics on Friday, 20 September 2019.


[1] James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916): ‘I will tell you what I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe, whether it calls itself my home, my fatherland, or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using for my defense the only arms I allow myself to use—silence, exile, and cunning’ (Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 1992. 191).

[2] Kaleidoscope (1968) can be viewed at: http://www.charlesnodrumgallery.com.au/exhibitions/lorri-whiting/

All images published here were taken by the author, and published with the permission of Lorri Whiting. Copyright remains with the estate of Lorri Whiting.

Source for letters between Lorri Whiting and Malcolm Fraser: University of Melbourne Archive, Malcolm Fraser Collection, 106/17 Box 7, Folder 52.

Works Cited

Ayres, Philip. Malcolm Fraser: a biography. Melbourne: William Heinemann Australia, 1987.

Celant, Germano (ed.). Nuvolo and Postwar Materiality: 1950–1965. Thames & Hudson/Skira Editore S.p.A. Italia, 2018.

Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. Arte Povera. London: Phaidon Press, 1999.

Fontana, Luciano (interview). Sourced at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XkmDe_DRP4.

Fraser, Malcolm & Margaret Simons. Malcolm Fraser: the political memoirs. Melbourne: The Miegunyah Press, 2010 (rev. 2015).

Jones, Phillip Fraser. ‘Una Arnold (1902–1998)’, Obituaries Australia. Sourced at: http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/fraser-una-arnold-19661/text31937.

Nochlin, Linda. ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ Art News (January 1971). Sourced at: http://www.artnews.com/2015/05/30/why-have-there-been-no-great-women-artists/.

Schjeldahl, Peter. ‘The XX Factor: women and abstract art’, New Yorker, 24 April 2017. 100. Sourced at: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/04/24/the-xx-factor.

Ward, Peter and Susan. In a Different Light: Australian artists working in Italy. St Lucia, Qld.: University of Queensland Press, 1991.

Whiting, Bertie. Lost on the Sea (with a Foreword by Jon Stallworthy). London: Timez Design Publishing, 2015.

Whiting, Lorri. ‘No Roman Holiday’, Art and Artists 227 (August 1985): 19–21.

Kevin Brophy is a poet, essayist and fiction writer. In 2015, he was writer-in-residence at the BR Whiting Library in Rome. His latest book, Look at the Lake (Puncher & Wattmann 2018), records two years of living in the community of Mulan in the Great Sandy Desert of Western Australia. He is a past winner of the Calibre Prize for an outstanding essay. In 2019–20 he was poet in residence at the Keesing Studio in Paris. He is Professor Emeritus in Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne.

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  1. Alessandra Imbellone says:

    Thank you for this beautiful and exhaustive essay on Lorri. I had the fortune to be her friend. It would be nice to share some memories on such an extraordinary person.

    • Kate says:

      Hi Alessandra,

      Please do feel free to share your memories in comments here! We’d love to hear from you.

      All best,

  2. Linda says:

    Thank you for this essay on the life of Lorri Whiting. I might have possibly an interesting piece of information for you to ponder regarding Lorri, back when she was 18/19.

  3. Alan Dodd says:

    I was one of those who crewed with Lorri in 2008, I lived in Spain at that time, enjoyed your essay.
    One thing I can’t remember is the name of the boat can you help.
    Alan Dodd

  4. Chris Arnold says:

    Hi Alan, I’m glad you enjoyed Kevin’s essay. I’ll ask if he remembers the name of the boat, but I wonder if it might be Servyn? This issue of the CA’s magazine mentions that name on page 8: https://www.theca.org.uk/system/files/Cruising_magazine_Dec2020_sample_issue.pdf

    All the best,

  5. Alan Dodd says:

    Hi Chris
    Yes that’s the name thanks for getting back to me, I sailed from Portugal back to Alicante with Lorri I remember she was organising her New York event I think whilst we were sailing.
    Thanks again

    • Chris Arnold says:

      Hi Alan, sorry it’s taken me so long to give you this update. Kevin sent through some wonderful extra details on the name:

      the boat, completed in the first half of 1978, was named Servyn, and Lorri said this was an ancient name for ‘deer’.
      Upon the completion of their boat-building project, Bertie wrote a poem:

      “Servyn, 4/5/78

      The word into the deed, rotten forests rise again,
      Petroleum into plastic; and art, and hardware,
      All at the service of a game, for gain,
      They formed her in her cradle in the Yard,

      Yet, as the prow thrust out to meat [sic] the day
      Down to the sea on a trailer, bone-clean,
      She did not wear the look of a toy —
      She came out like a sword drawn from the stone.”

      (published in Winter For Quiet: A Selection of Sea Poems, 1979, self-published in Rome)

  6. Alan says:

    Thanks Chris, as you sorry for late reply, and indeed I remember she said it was a deer, and in fact below deck carved into the wooden structure was a deer!
    I wonder where the boat is now.

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