By the beginning of the seventies Whiteley was involved with The Yellow House artist's community in Potts Point, Sydney and was seen as one of the leading lights of the avant-garde art movement.
In 1972 he began work on Alchemy and by the following January it was complete. It was exhibited at the Bonython Gallery in Sydney. This incredible work was interpreted as an allegory of life's journey, from birth to death, and the ultimate transmutation.
He exhibited at The World Expo in Washington in 1974 and, ominously, stated in an interview to Philip Adams that he had 'moved from alcohol to more serious mind altering chemicals'.
Whiteley's acclaim continued to grow throughout the seventies and eighties. In 1975 he was awarded the Sir William Angliss Memorial Art Prize. In 1976 he won his first Archibald Prize with Self-portrait in the studio and the Sir John Sulman Prize for Interior with Time Past (genre painting).
In 1977 he won the Wynne Prize for The Jacaranda Tree (On Sydney Harbour), and in 1978 became the only Australian artist ever to claim the Archibald, Sulman and Wynne art prizes - a unique treble.
He was awarded the Wynne Prize again in 1984, and the following year purchased an old T-shirt factory in Surry Hills, Sydney and converted it into a studio. Further renovations followed and in later years the downstairs gallery area was repainted and now houses changing exhibitions. In 1991 he was awarded the Order of Australia (General Division).
In the last years of his life Whiteley travelled far and wide, taking in England, Bali, Tokyo, and spending two months in Paris in an apartment on Rue de Tournon. On 15 June 1992 he was found dead from a heroin overdose in a motel room in Thirroul on the NSW coast. The coroner's verdict was 'death due to self-administered substances'. He was 53 years old.
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