Robert Malherbe is a painter’s painter. His process is fast and instinctive, the finished product always a testament to technique and the qualities of paint itself as much as to the subject depicted. As the artist himself says ‘painting is just drawing with colour.’ Here Robert answers a few questions about the art he makes in the wake of the opening of his latest exhibition at Olsen Irwin ‘Gathered in Spring.’ In this show, Robert’s still life paintings combine fantastically with the ceramic work of Prue Venables.
Robert Malherbe and Prue Venables ‘Gathered in Spring’
Olsen Irwin Works on paper, Small paintings and sculpture gallery
40 Queen st, Woollahra NSW
Tuesday to Saturday 11-5
You’ve always been a very accomplished painter of landscape and nudes as your previous exhibitions here at Olsen Irwin show. Why have you chosen to focus on still life painting for this show?
It wasn’t a planned thing. I think these paintings came out of looking at Matisse and then thinking in terms of composition. How certain things or objects, in this case flowers, could create a type of rhythm and narrative. I always thought there was a secret narrative thumping away beneath the best still lives. Let’s not forget that flowers, because of their short lives, are deceptively joyful- and of course the stripes in these pictures are there purely as a kind of rhythm.
I’m interested in your artmaking process. Could you tell me how you go about starting a work?
I never begin a painting by drawing although I always end with drawing with paint over the top. I usually start with a big blob of paint which I hit somewhere on the canvas and work outwards.
And more specifically, what was your process in producing this suite of paintings? Did it differ in any way?
With these paintings I painted them exactly the same way I do all the others, very, very quickly.
Do you think speed and immediacy are an essential part of your practice?
I don’t want to think about it too much, if I did I would find the whole thing boring. It’s quite nice to stop and be surprised at what you’ve just made.
Rose after RD, 2014, oil on board, 50 x 40cm
One set-up from Robert’s studio
What is your studio practice like? Where is your studio? Do you have a working routine?
These still lives would be set up and then I would leave the studio go grab a coffee on Stanley St and forget about flowers for a bit and on retuning to the studio I would get a mild shock at seeing them again. Usually from a different angle to what I had originally intended. That’s when I get excited and start painting. It’s a little game I play to stop the thing looking stale and preconceived.
Do you ever find it hard to produce an artwork? How do you generally overcome this difficulty?
Once you begin and most painters will tell you this, it’s difficult to stop. But life intervenes and we all have responsibilities, we all have to live in the “real” world so you take time out, act like a normal person, get bored and then you’re off painting again. Very indulgent I may add but that’s the choice we make and others can live the way they choose. A life spent painting, it’s not for every body.
Many of the works in this show employ a very interesting use of perspective. How have you decided to construct these paintings?
In terms of perspective, if the paintings have movement or life in them or a kind of awkwardness it’s a result of them being painted from life. That means that I’m standing up using two eyes and constantly making decisions regarding form, colour and tone while constantly on the move. Cezanne taught us this. That we humans see psychologically while the camera-because of it’s one point perspective-teaches us to see mathematically. I hope my paintings owe very little to the camera.
How important is drawing to your practice?
I draw every day and painting is just drawing-with colour.
Coral Peonies, 2014, oil on board, 50 x 45cm
Roses against a striped cloth, 2014, oil on linen, 61 x 50cm
The black vase, 2014, oil on linen, 91 x 71cm