The Holy Grail of audiobooks: Mark Seymour on the life of Brett Whiteley

An article about Mark Seymour recording an audiobook for Ashleigh Wilson’s book, Life and The Other Thing, about artist Brett Whiteley.

Author:  Claire Slattery, The Weekly Review.

Date: 2 August 2016.

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Article Text

They both loom large as celebrated Australian cultural figures of a certain era, but Mark Seymour and Brett Whiteley have only just now crossed paths. Sort of.

The former frontman of legendary rock band Hunters and Collectors, Mark Seymour is the voice of a new authorised biography of the artist Brett Whiteley, who died in 1992 aged 53.

Written by journalist Ashleigh Wilson, Art, Life and The Other Thing has been published by Text Publishing and as an audiobook by It includes unprecedented behind-the-scenes access, rare notebook sketches and candid family photos.

Ashleigh Wilson will be talking at:
Wednesday, August 10, 7pm, Eltham South Fine Art Gallery
Thursday, August 11, 6.30pm, My Bookshop, Toorak

Mark says the book reads as a forensic examination of Whiteley’s life.

“It’s an account of events that have been reported on in incredible detail … The author’s talked to a lot of people, no question,” he told The Weekly Review.

The 410-page book took about four days to record and although he has done voiceover work previously, this is Mark’s first audiobook.

“To begin with I had no idea how it would work,” he says. “But I think the main point of the task is really to create a psychological space. So you use your voice to create a mood – to actually do acting I suppose.”

Mark says although he’s never held any particular interest in Whiteley, like most Australians he’s well aware of the artist’s work and is familiar with aspects of his life and personality.

“There’s been a lot of anecdote, I mean he was pretty notorious,” he says.

As an artist, a drug addict and a rock-star personality, it’s Whiteley’s obsessive personality that stands out in Wilson’s portrayal, Mark says.

“The book leaves you with this feeling of a frenzied output of a painter who just never put the brush down essentially, and everything else in his life revolved around his artistic activity. Literally everything revolved around him doing that.”

While he’s not drawing any parallels with his own creative journey, Mark says the book shows that the Whiteley experience is not an easy one.

“To me as a concept, as a lesson in life, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, to be honest,” Mark says. “But there’s clearly something going on in Whiteley’s persona that forced him to do it.”

So would he recommend the book to others?