Robert Malherbe is known for his wonderfully lush style of painting. His works breeze through the picture plane, reflecting a confident and accomplished artist with an eye for the visually engaging. Malherbe tends to work only from life, resulting in vigorous mark making. He responds and reacts directly to his source material, allowing him to explore the less tangible elements of his different muses, whether that is the figure or landscape. His latest offering at James Makin Gallery shows a rougher approach to paint application and reveals a deep reliance upon intuition.
Sometimes in a good painting there needs to be more than a slickness or easy appeal. Malherbe is capable of producing the attractive landscape, simple nude or sharp pictorial but what’s apparent in his most recent work is that he always pushes himself further than his natural facility allows. He has deftly bypassed these deadly painters’ traps with a clever understanding of the painter’s craft. A committed artist who has been around the scene and showed extensively along the east coast of Australia for years, Malherbe is driven to express the deeply personal. In both his landscape-oriented and figurative paintings he imparts a rich and pervasive sensuality.
This artist is enamoured with paint as matter. He mixes his own paints, which he keeps in an assortment of tubs purchased from IKEA. He explains that by mixing his own paints he can obtain the texture and colour needed for his ‘sculpting.’ He believes that if you can work quickly, the painting will have a greater freshness, and perhaps more serendipitous happenings will occur as paint and lines mix, merge and spontaneously happen. For Malherbe, painting is not just about the reproduction of a subject, but of entering a state of inspiration and meditation, conveying the pain and torment of trying to represent accurate feelings about the image which one is attempting to reduce to canvas.
In Autumn Landscape I there is the portrayal of a local street vista. Awkward, lumpy handling of paint and a considered composition draw the viewer in to the work. Malherbe often uses sharp, vigorous diagonals that cut through the placid horizontals and acidic yellows, providing a vibrant alternative to the everyday ‘oaty’ colours of your average garden-variety landscape painter.
The painting Small Nude II, a chewy portrayal of a life model, teeters towards the comic and theatrical but has enough visual bite to keep it a convincing and ‘alive’ interpretation of the subject. It is not concerned with exact representation or figuration; edges bleed in with one another, heightened colour gives ‘air’ to the work and one can feel the confidence in the model’s stance and personality.
Malherbe doesn’t seem too worried about a consistent theme of subject matter or content in his painting – he is interested in what subjects affect him. Not concerned with the fashion of contemporary theory, he paints purely for joy and the accompanying experience – something that is clearly reflected in the work.
James Makin Gallery
11 June to 6 July, 2014
Small Nude II, 2014, oil on linen, 40 x 30cm
Autumn Landscape I, 2014, oil on linen, 51 x 60.5cm
Images courtesy the artist and James Makin Gallery, Melbourne