What do you buy in a bundle, can fit in your pocket, and if struck it can light a fire? Well, it becomes useless when it’s 6 meters tall, and here we have one of Sydney’s most random statues. In Sydney’s Domain park, “Almost Once”, or what is more commonly known as “The Big Matchsticks” is a pair of giant matchsticks. This addition to Australia’s big things was actually sculpted by one of Australia’s most rebellious and influential artists, and has a meaning that will resonates with us all.
With one fresh and one burnt matchstick, Almost Once is a reflection on life and death. It’s easy to assume the burnt-out match represents death, but it’s actually far from it; it’s a representation of living life to the fullest. We’ve all felt burnt out after a hard day’s work; and this sentiment can be a reflection on how you’ve lived your life.
Brett Whiteley was born and grew up in Sydney. Painting the patrons of homeless shelters, he found his artistic talent at a very young age. He believed that if he could create a big enough masterpiece, he could stop wars.
Vincent van Gogh was a major influence on his work, and many of his pieces feature van Gogh’s portraits. Paulo Gauguin and Francis Bacon also influenced his work; as did Bob Dylan, whose quotes are written all over the walls of his Surry Hills studio.
More than paintings and sculptures, he blended elements of the two. Some of his artworks have windows showing other artworks; some had objects coming off the page, like razors or tree branches; and others involved light-bulbs. A really cool painting of his shows the road to Palm Beach, sunrays pounding on the road with the sun producing actual light. You really need to see the art to appreciate complex textures and details.
Whiteley won the three most prestigious art awards in Australia. Twice. In 1991 he became an Officer of the Order of Australia. His match burnt out in 1992, shortly after gifting Almost Once to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Almost Once is a sombre reflection on his life as it is on life in general.
Experience the Matchsticks
You can find Almost Once at The Domain, behind the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Inside you can find one of his famous paintings of Sydney Harbour. The Art Gallery of New South Wales is free entry and open every day.
A smaller version can be found on the doors of his studio; it may be smaller, but they’re still much bigger than normal matches. Brett Whiteley Studio is his former home and office in his latter years. It is at 2 Raper St, Surry Hills. It’s free entry and they offer painting classes at a price. It is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only.