Robyn Sharp

Constantly exploring the Australian landscape

Robyn Sharp has the ability to capture the emotions and character of a landscape like few other artists. I had the privilege to be invited into her studio overlooking Kangaroo Valley in the early light of an autumn morning two weeks ago.

The canvas she showed me was of a distant valley wall, foreshortened by deep looking, the sky rising behind in crisp blues and whites. I felt I was looking through a telescope- the valley heaved and buckled, at times it was wet and dangerous like the cold folds of a rainforest valley, at the top a crest of the mountain ridge was sharp and detailed as the trees and limbs rose in silhouette against the sky. As Fred Williams captured the eventful Australian desert with colourful dashes and squabs of multiple colours against a sandy wash, Sharp too captures with equal aplomb a moister, more humid Australia.

Last year I had marvelled at a series of works she had done enmeshing cartographic principles over landscapes that harked back to the work of Mathew Flinders and other Colonial explorer-artists who recorded the low Australian coastline; the ebb and flow of tide marks, bays and sand dunes in careful watercolour and gauche. These memories were then overlaid by the precise formal grid of the cartographer, but it was difficult to tell wether she’d drawn on the canvas or the protective glass that framed the work. Frames over frames, grids over perceptions.

Every time I return to Asia I have a gentle running argument with an English anthropology who lives in Singapore about the window frame and how to look through it. He prefers the full expanse of an uninterrupted view, I prefer the the glancing peeks through the louvred glass of a 1930s country veranda, or the Japanese soji screen that entices further enquiry. In her 2017 series Sharp seemed to play on the later, gently breaking the views into distinct moments of focus, without damaging the whole.

Perhaps I should bring my anthropological friend to Sharp’s studio. Wether it’s the cartographers attempt to make precision of an unruly coast or the explorers focus through the telescopic lens Robyn is constantly exploring how to look at the Australian landscape. And every one of her explorations is a success.

-Nicholas Coffill