art / “Hyper Real”, National Gallery of Australia, until February 18. Reviewed by ANNI DOYLE WAWRZYŃCZAK.
WHEN “CityNews” last spoke to artist Wendy Sharpe she was at Belconnen Arts Centre for her exhibition of quick portraits of refugees and told us that she felt drawing them was “like being a trapeze artist without a net”.
It’s an apt metaphor for the exhibition that she’s bringing to Aarwun Gallery under the title “Burlesque & Circus: Wendy Sharpe”.
Sharpe both delighted and enraged art lovers in 1996 when she won the Archibald Prize for her “Self-portrait as Diana of Erskineville”, in which she appears, blousy and magnificent, as a suburban goddess.
She has also hit the news as the winner of the Portia Geach Memorial Prize, twice, and the Sulman Prize and for her commission as the Australian Official War Artist to East Timor, which resulted in poignant and colourful paintings, including one of Kylie Minogue entertaining the troops.
While she’s always been an artist of conscience, who described her 2015 refugee exhibition as “a way of stopping people from being treated as statistics”, the show coming to Canberra in early March is a flashback to her naughtier inclinations, as Sharpe goes to the backstages of Sydney and Paris in search of experiences that can only be described as exotic and sensual.
Assistant director at Aarwun Ella Chartres is busy preparing an exotic opening function, which will feature local burlesque artists Rebelle Velveteen, Liz Rainbow and Mae de la Rue, while gallery owner Robert Stephens can hardly contain his excitement at having attracted such a popular artist.
In entering the same territory as 19th-century French artist Toulouse-Lautrec, Sharpe’s paintings are sometimes playful, but as with Lautrec, they hint at the darker side of life on the very fringes of society.
“Burlesque & Circus: Wendy Sharpe”, Aarwun Gallery, Shop 11 Federation Square, Gold Creek, March 4-April 4.