Sharpe is a hard worker whose artistic practice is grounded in life drawing and painting. She has an honest approach to her art and draws prolifically. She was the recipient of the Archibald prize in 1996 for her Self-portrait as Diana of Erskinville. This portrait, like her paintings and drawings, shows her strength as a figurative painter and her exuberance with paint. Her work is full of sensuality and energy, brought out by her assured rendering of the human form and her passion for her subject. She was also willing to contend with the uncomfortable conditions likely in East Timor. With her new title as “Australian Official Artist”, Sharpe carried her army pack, art materials and four sketchbooks and began drawing immediately on her arrival in Darwin. She filled the sketchbooks with hundreds of drawings capturing the immediacy of her experiences in pencil, charcoal, pastel and gouache. They demonstrate her love of people and faces and offer vivid insights into the daily life of the soldiers and the East Timorese. A group of powerful charcoal drawings of Suai Cathedral create a mood of foreboding: the cathedral soars against the night sky, shielding the horrors the militia perpetrated there against the fleeing East Timorese. A series of watercolours and gouaches capture the everyday activities of Robertson Barracks. Kitchen, Roberston Barracks, Darwin shows the chef, clothed in white, preparing food; Self-portrait, Darwin shows Sharpe stripped to underclothes drawing in the coolness of her room. In the mess, Robertson Barracks, Darwin shows the young soldiers drinking lurid cordial. Leaving Darwin for Dili, Sharpe found herself waiting for transport and spent the time sketching the young male and female soldiers playing cards in their t-shirts, singlets and shorts in Girls playing cards, Darwin and Boys playing cards, Darwin. Sharpe was struck by the youth of the soldiers and their amazing resourcefulness in changing situations. Her delightful gouache, Night on HMAS Jervis Bay, finds Sharpe peering out of her makeshift tent on deck seeking an escape route to the bathroom. Sharpe’s handling of paint is assured in the many works she did of the East Timorese people, particularly the children. The intensity of their emotion reflects her compassion for and interest in what she observed during her stay. Sharpe painted her large canvas, Midnight at Suai Cathedral, on her return to her studio in Sydney. It captures the drama and terrors of a people reliving their nightmares. The orange and red sky behind the cathedral and the faces lit by a green light create a sense of apprehension. Christmas Eve, Suai is a sea of dark forms in front of a brightly-lit stage on which the East Timorese re-enacted their narrative of the carnage inflicted on them. Sharpe was deeply affected by this performance and interpreted it as an attempt by the East Timorese to exorcise their pain. In marked contrast, her second large painting Christmas Tour of Duty concert, Dili is exuberant and high spirited, full of sensual forms which celebrate human survival. A series of smaller works, some on coloured paper, record the many lively aspects of this concert. Army girls, Tour of Duty concert, Dili and the other drawings of the concert display a refreshing use of colour and expressive forms. Sharpe’s primary focus is on the people and their sense of joy at returning home. Her contribution provides a positive view of a people embarking on the challenge of rebuilding their nation.
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