Skip to main content

To help keep our visitors and staff safe, please book your spot before visiting.

Menu

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

Observation point

by Wendy Sharpe, 1 October 2013

Australian artist and Archibald Prize finalist, Wendy Sharpe reflects on the art of portraiture.

Models with trident and 1970s lamp 2013
 by Wendy Sharpe
Models with trident and 1970s lamp 2013. by Wendy Sharpe

Although I have won the Archibald Prize and the Portia Geach Memorial Award (twice), I am not a portrait painter. My work is figurative and narrative and often, though not always, there is an autobiographical element.

I have been a finalist in the Archibald four times, all self portraits, with the exception of 2013 when I painted Venus Vamp, a burlesque performer, part of a recent body of work about burlesque, dress up and makebelieve. The painting is about Venus Vamp’s stage persona and character, not just likeness. I had been working a lot from life with various performers posing for me in my studio. A good portrait must also be an interesting painting. Formal qualities such as colour, composition and tone need to be considered. The most exciting portraits are not merely about likeness, they tell us something about the sitter as well.

Lately there has been a fashion for what I call ‘hand painted photographs’, which to me has very little to do with painting and is very banal. I am not saying there is anything wrong with using photographs, you can use anything to get an interesting image, but to slavishly copy one makes it seem as though painting’s highest achievement is to resemble a photograph. It is an insult both to painting and photography. Why not leave it as a photo?

I have always been interested in making paintings about people. Usually there is a female protagonist. I make the analogy with a novelist where even if the main character isn’t me she may represent aspects of my personality. She is also a sort of ‘every woman’. That’s what I want to viewer to identify with.

Related information

Portrait 46, Spring/Summer 2013

Magazine

This issue features Richard Avedon, Tracey Moffatt, Indigenous portraiture, William Kentridge, roller derby and more.

‘Untitled’ - Yellow Kangaroo Paw, 2008 by Christian Thompson
‘Untitled’ - Yellow Kangaroo Paw, 2008 by Christian Thompson
‘Untitled’ - Yellow Kangaroo Paw, 2008 by Christian Thompson
‘Untitled’ - Yellow Kangaroo Paw, 2008 by Christian Thompson

The 'I' in Indigenous art

Magazine article by Jane Raffan

Jane Raffan examines unique styles of Indigenous portraiture that challenge traditional Western concepts of the artform.

Terror to Pieces by Nikki Toole
Terror to Pieces by Nikki Toole
Terror to Pieces by Nikki Toole
Terror to Pieces by Nikki Toole

Elle on wheels

Magazine article by Lucy Quinn

Lucy Quinn compares the approaches of three photographers lured to the action and culture of roller derby.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
King Edward Terrace, Parkes
Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency