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Robert Malherbe has known landscape and still life painter Luke Sciberras for some years now. ‘I first saw a show of his in 2001 and was impressed by the paintings. Later, when I met him, I discovered that he is flamboyant, gregarious and a one-man charm school,’ says Malherbe.
Both artists show at the same gallery. Bumping into each other one day, they got talking and discovered that they liked many of the same artists and shared a similar approach to painting.
‘What I wanted to capture in the portrait was a seductive character with human frailties,’ says Malherbe. ‘I hope these qualities come out in the portrait.’
It was painted at Malherbe’s home. ‘I prepared to paint while Luke charmed everybody,’ he says. Then Malherbe put on a CD and he and Sciberras settled down for the sitting. ‘He always wears scarves and hats so I wanted an image of him playing with his scarf. It’s said that people who play with their ties have a desire to be liked. The painting was completed in 90 minutes and Luke said he loved the result.’
Malherbe himself was tempted to scrape the paint off and start again but left the work alone and found that it gradually grew and grew on him and his wife. ‘Sometimes you paint someone’s face and it doesn’t look like a passport photo but it captures something of their essence,’ he says.
Born in Mauritius in 1965, Malherbe came to Australia at age six. A self-taught artist who never went to art school, he received his art education by standing in front of some of the greatest paintings in some of the greatest galleries around the world. He has had eight solo shows in Sydney and Brisbane and his landscape entries in the Wynne Prize have twice been selected for the Salon des Refuses. This is his first time in both the Archibald Prize and the Wynne Prize.