This extended interview with Clive James contains the consideration of former Chelsea resident, Brett Whiteley reproduced below. The Whiteleys lived at the Chelsea in the early 70s. Significant Whiteley work can be seen at the reception desk.
This article refers to Whiteley's London years, before his Chelsea residency.
"The house had once belonged to the pre-Raphaelite crowd-pleaser William Holman Hunt," James says. "The bunch of recent arrivals I was with all moved into the ground floor and started being poor. Brett lived in a studio in the back yard: he had obviously already left poverty behind.
"He had all the signs of success, including a blindingly beautiful wife, Wendy. Forty years on I know enough about the harsh economics of a painter's life to know that Brett might not have been that well off but he certainly got invited out. It was a tough moment for the rest of us when Brett and Wendy emerged from the studio on the way to dinner with Sir Kenneth Clark (England's leading art historian and academic)," he says.
"Brett, with his bright blond tea-cosy of a hairstyle, a kind of golden helmet, was almost as lovely as his wife. But Brett was no snob and seemed not to mind when I spent hours drinking his beer while explaining to him that technique in the arts was a side issue.
"Brett countered with the argument that one of the reasons Matisse could leave out so much was that he knew exactly how to put everything in. This was a perfectly true statement, but I was years away from realising how true because I had never had to sit down and keep reshaping a sentence while the light changed on the verb.
"One of the things I most regret about my acquaintanceship with Brett Whiteley was that when he carried out his plans to visit the National Gallery before dawn - Sir Kenneth had made a phone call - I was too hung over to join him on his expedition to watch the sun come up on the Piero della Francescas."
Who would wish to live through that wasteful, youthful world again, James wonders. "Another regret is that I agreed to him doing a triptych of nude lovers based on one of my poems, which he was generous enough to admire. I thought I recognised Wendy in the complicated and lascivious flourish of black ink on the white paper. The images of her, I thought, were a lot more interesting than my words.
"When the images were framed at Brett's expense - Wendy looked at me very sharply for that, quite rightly so - he made me a present of them, and I lugged them around for years until I finally left them with a startled landlady in Cambridge in compensation for being late with the rent. Unless she burned them, I expect they will turn up one day and fetch a huge price: not because of my lines but because of Brett's line. And that's just how it should be."