Video Text Transcript

Wanderlust – Wendy Sharpe

Wendy Sharpe: I have this feeling for travel so much that I'm very restless. You see everything for the first time, everything becomes new. It opens your eyes and you notice things, even commonplace boring things like street signs are interesting because they are different. It makes you actually see things and as an artist, you should be seeing things all the time. Everything should look new and wild and wacky and different and fascinating.

Katherine Roberts, Senior Curator, Manly Art Gallery & Museum: Wanderlust is spelled with an A, because she is exploring, she's wandering around the planet but also you equally could have it spelled with an O because of her natural wonder in the world which I think is the heart of this exhibition and is what we, as an audience, engage with when we look at her work and we think about those notions of travel.

Bernard Ollis, Artist/Wendy Sharpe’s partner: She doesn't want to be one of those people towards the end of her days that says, "I wish I had gone to the Taj Mahal. I wish I had gone to Machu Picchu, I wish I had gone to or wherever". I think she's one of those people that always wanted to make sure that this world is so exciting, I want to make sure I get to see it.

Wendy Sharpe: I'm not just planning the next trip, I'm planning the next and the next and the next and I'm living for the next hit of somewhere else.

Wendy & Katherine in the studio:  Here’s a selection, so here’s just a bit of a selection. I spent yesterday going through, getting stuff out of the racks. This one is a pastel, a chalk pastel and this is in Southern Morocco and usually when I am travelling I work in gouche. I was working in pastel and I love pastel but I actually realised it’s just not a good idea because it smudges everywhere. I managed to bring them back okay but it wasn’t that easy but there are ones like that but then there’s also a lot of these, these are some Antarctic ones. All of those I did on the ship.

Katherine Roberts: When she approached us about showing some of her travel works under that broad concept of wanderlust we just jumped on it. Because you know Wendy Sharpe actually grew up on the Northern Beaches in Avalon and she used to travel the length of the beaches to go to Seaforth TAFE and then across the harbour to go to City Art Institute. So it's really special for us to be able to have a solo show of Wendy's work.

Wendy Sharpe: It's now about 30 years approximately since I first went to Paris and fell in love with it and I went back many, many times to stay in the same sort of studio but also rented apartments and so on. and then 2010, '11 we got an apartment there. So I now am there part of every year. It's so steeped in history. Everywhere you go where we are in the northern and non-touristy bit in Montmarte, so many artists were painting right near us. We are within a short walk of where Toulouse Lautrec’s studio was and of course Picasso and all of those people up around Sacré-Coeur area.

It's a place really to collect ideas and gather information. So I do make work there but it's small by definition. But I'm drawing in cafes and I'm drawing around the place outside but I'm also in that apartment, usually making little things, sometimes little oil paintings, other times little gouaches, works on paper. Then I am bringing it back here and then I am making work that’s from that experience.

Bernard Ollis:  Wendy has such a grand, beautiful studio, she can bring things back here which are done on the backs of envelopes and she can find ways then to transfer it to more developed ideas and concepts in the Sydney studio. So it's a combination of going there and collecting all you can and then syphoning through it and finding and distilling it and getting the essence of all those things and then from that, then she starts painting or developing exhibitions and planning for the future.

Katherine Roberts: One of her most recent exhibitions has a series of paintings almost Rear Window-like where she is looking from their apartment in Paris across to the apartments on the other side of the street. And what she wants us to do is to imagine and reimagine what their lives are like. What are they talking about? Is it something inane and everyday or is it a deep and meaningful conversation? I think you feel a real sense of connection, even to those strangers because of the warmth of her palette as well and because of that imagined world that she's created for us.

Wendy Sharpe, Studio: When I am travelling, I am usually using gouache. I also use it a lot in the studio here when I am making little studies and what gouache is like an opaque watercolour. You can paint quite thinly and you can also paint solid areas of colour. I am using tubes like this and I am also using something like that. It dries quickly and you squeeze it out and it dries quickly and as soon as you put water on it, it comes back which is really handy because I can have this in my bag in a plastic bag and as soon as I put water on it I have got paint back again.

Wendy Sharpe: When you are drawing, you don't just run through somewhere or take a few photos and then look at them when you get home and see where you were. You actually have to look very carefully and you spend a lot of time. For example, when I was in Venice years ago, I kept returning to the same piazza over and over and over and drawing there. I'm sitting there all day in the same position. I could see tourists walking in and out. I could see gondoliers. I could see a church and various, various other things and I could see how the square actually works.

Wendy & Katherine in the studio: This one is up on a roof in Florence. We found this place which was fantastic. It was very cheap and the reason it was cheap was because it was up 90 something stairs so it was a lot of stairs which I thought I would get used to and I never did but it was worth it because when you got to the top we had this little roof which was just ours and I have exaggerated the closeness of things but you honestly could see the Ufizzi, Santa Croce, the most famous things you can think of in Florence so it was wonderful. And so what we did because we were there for a month was spend virtually every day drawing on the roof. It was fantastic.

Bernard Ollis: When you get to an environment like that, Wendy starts painting and I turn the other way and start painting and she finds it interesting to make a painting about painters being excited and working on ideas. And she's done several works which are about her and me because she always says that at the end of the day when we come back and we put our work down, they are totally different. I mean, my preoccupations are different to hers and that makes it exciting as well.          

Wendy Sharpe: One of the other things that's in this exhibition is a collection of gouaches from when I spent the Day of the Dead in Oaxaca which is a place in Mexico. And that was something I'd always wanted to do and it was incredible. It is about death. It's about remembering your friends and family who've died. But it's also a celebration of life in a strange way because people paint themselves up like skeletons. It is both life and death.

Like a lot of my work, which people think it's all happy, happy, it's not really. I think that the Day of the Dead is a good example because it is sort of happy but it's also got a darkness underneath it as well.

Bernard Ollis: She's interested in setting up the scene which is like writing half a sentence and allowing the viewer to finish it off, often dependent upon their own experiences.

Wendy Sharpe: Walking through the streets of Cairo, going into cafes and I've got little paintings which are in this show of young Egyptian women talking on mobile phones, hanging out together, drinking cups of tea. Just little glimpses of life but also things where you don't really understand what's going on so I'm aware that I'm an outsider and I'm aware that I'm not understanding, but if I'm painting what happens to me then I haven't assumed anything and I haven't really claimed to be an expert on it.

Katherine Roberts: Early in Wendy's career, she drew at the opera and the ballet and she's always been very interested in that theatrical stage set. So you see in her work that it's almost like every painting is a set, the way it's framed and coloured and the figures are placed. They're very sculptural, too. There's such gravitas to the figures and it's almost like they are performing on a stage.

Wendy Sharpe: All my work is about people, whether it's travel or whatever it is. I don't want things to be an illustration of a place. I want them to be evocative of a place and I want them to take you there, even if you've never been there, to make you imagine what's going on in there. Who are they? What's around the corner? Because that's what makes it interesting.

Bernard Ollis: She's interested in humanity, she's interested in figuration, she's interested in the psychology of people and placing them in particular environments and being a voyeur so you mix all that together and there is a certain kind of thing where you would say Wendy Sharpe is interested in that. She’s about throwing as much as possible into it and she is interested in talking about us and what we are as humans.