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‘One of the hardest things to paint is a self-portrait,’ says Robert Malherbe. ‘It’s a problem of emotional distance, and understanding that every face has its own unique rhythm. Referring to the study of butterflies, [author Vladimir] Nabokov said it was “the differences that matter”. This is also true of faces; how does my face differ from others?’
Instead of using photographs, Malherbe propped a mirror on a chair and painted directly from life. ‘I didn’t want a “selfie” or an idealised me appealing to an imaginary audience,’ he says. ‘Instead, I wanted a raw image of myself staring back. I wanted to see the face that my sitters see when I paint them.’
Born in Mauritius in 1965, Malherbe immigrated to Australia in 1971. He worked as an animator before travelling and living in Europe for a decade. In 2010, he was awarded the Art Gallery of New South Wales residency at Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. He has been a regular finalist in prestigious prizes, including the Wynne Prize, Mosman Art Prize and Paddington Art Prize. In 2016, he won the NSW Parliament Plein Air Painting Prize. This is his second time in the Archibald Prize. He also has a collaborative work in this year’s Sulman Prize.
Last waltz at the Doomsday Ball