Discovering Paris’ best kept secrets with Wendy Sharpe

Wendy Sharpe, one of Australia’s most awarded artists, presents Paris, a dynamic and vibrant exhibition of Parisian moments, at Linton & Kay Galleries in June. Sharpe delves into the secret world of Parisians, depicting the coexistence between the real and the imagined with vividly lit glimpses into life in Montmartre, Paris where she lives for part of every year. Ahead of her visit to Perth for the opening of the exhibition, we sat down with Wendy to discover more about her life in Paris and its best kept secrets.


Nadine: What does your typical Parisian day look like?

Wendy: As I live in Paris part of every year, it really is like a second home to me, so I don’t really do any of the touristy things. A typical day would include going to see an exhibition, going to the markets and painting in the apartment.

Nadine: What do you love most about Paris?

Wendy: The main thing, which always sounds pretty weak is that it is so beautiful, so rich with everything. There is always something to see and endless things to discover and it is also very varied. I love the close proximity of everything, if you go for a walk for half an hour through central Paris, you will go through so many different areas from groovy and bohemian to working class, to a very posh and elegant area all within 5-10 minutes walking distance of each other. People also spend a lot of time outside of their homes, on the street or in cafes, as most people have little apartments, they are out socialising all the time.

Nadine: What are your recommendations for someone planning a trip to Paris?

Wendy: Don’t go for just five days, try and go for at least two weeks. You don’t want to just have a checklist for the tourist sites – you should go see the key landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame, but you should also have time to go for a walk and just wander. Paris is a walking city; you want to make sure you have time to discover things and see what happens when you walk somewhere.

Nadine: What are some best kept secrets about the city that only a real Parisian would know about?

Wendy: I really love going into some of the ethnic areas, especially around the African area north of Paris which has fantastic African fabrics. Also, north of Paris, there is a huge flea market that I love going to. It is about the size of a suburb – it’s fantastic, you don’t go there for a morning you go there for a whole day. It’s somewhere that has everything from really tacky trinkets to a crystal chandelier that Marie Antoinette herself probably owned.

Nadine: Where do you find the best baguette in Paris?

Wendy: Every year the city organises a competition to find the best baguette in Paris, and there is a place around the corner from me that won a few years go. There are always queues to get in, I’ve forgotten the name but it is close to the Jules Joffrin metro – the Detail team of course did some research and we think it is Pain Pain. But you can also buy so many other fabulous things in patisseries, particularly beautiful quiches and unusual ones we tend to not get in Australia like blue cheese and pearl and things like that which is fantastic.

Nadine: What inspired your latest exhibition Paris?

Wendy: I’m living a very different life to what I do in Australia. There are more people around in cafés for example, everyone is there doing business and meeting friends – we do this too but not to such a degree, it’s a real Café Society. You are watching people all the time and you think ‘what’s going on with those two?’ ‘what’s happening there?’ ‘Who are they?’ and you become more of a voyeur and these questions start an interesting narrative. There are also quite a few paintings in this exhibition at Linton & Kay that have been inspired by areas and places from around where I live in the northern part of Montmartre. We live on the ninth floor of our apartment and the view from our balcony looks straight into other people’s apartments. When we first got the apartment, I wondered if I should wave to people across the way. But no, you have to pretend you can’t see them, but you notice their life and start to imagine their stories.

Nadine: You share your time between Paris and Sydney, what do you miss most about each city when you are in the other?

Wendy: When I’m in Sydney I am missing the beauty of Paris, Sydney is beautiful in its own way, but I do miss those buildings and my little local haunts. Also being able to go to exhibitions, they always have fantastic ones, the museums and galleries are endless and wonderful and even if you have been hundreds of times, you can never go enough. I miss the access to all of that. When I am in Paris, the main thing I miss besides friends and family, is my huge studio space that I have in Sydney. In Paris I have a very small workspace.

Nadine: Do you approach your work in the same way when you are in a different country?

Wendy: No, when I am in Paris as my work space is a lot smaller I usually do small paintings or gouaches – little works on paper which are studies and ideas of paintings. I am either making small pieces or collecting ideas. Some of the paintings in this exhibition are made in Paris, but the larger ones are made here in Australia from drawings I did in Paris.

Nadine: Does your art imitate life?

Wendy: That’s an interesting question, I would say it depends. Some of my work I feel as though is all imagined but I know if you’re imaging something it must have been something you saw or something that happened to you that triggered that thought. Other times I will look at something and use it as the base for an idea and build around it. I don’t think there is anything that is literal, I would never sit in front of something and paint it, I always try to say something about it besides simply what it looks like because I don’t think that would be very interesting. You want to try make people intrigued by your art, what I always hope is that when someone looks at my paintings that they are wondering what is going on and creating their own narrative.

Nadine: What is your favourite colour?

Wendy: I don’t have a favourite colour – I think they are all good.

Nadine: If you hadn’t followed your current career path and become an artist, what do you think you would have done instead?

Wendy: This is a very romantic thing to say, but I don’t think you can decide to be an artist – you either are or you aren’t. It is not a career choice, but I am lucky that it has become my career. I’ve always painted and drawn even at school; I’ve never done anything else.

Nadine: What is currently inspiring you?

Wendy: Currently I am working on some paintings on the theme of magic, that’s what I am thinking about at the moment. Actually some of the paintings from my Paris exhibition at Linton & Kay have a bit of that in them too. There are quite a few of the paintings that have someone sitting at a table in a café, and there is a blurry face floating beside them and the question is, is that someone she is thinking of, is it someone she used to know, will know, someone looking after her or is it a spirit of someone who used to sit in that café. All of those are right but they are kind of magic too. It’s not just what you see, it’s about real things and imagined things together.

Wendy Sharpe’s new exhibition Paris is at Linton & Kay Galleries in Subiaco until June 30.


Word: Wendy Sharpe with Nadine Pougnet

Imagery: Wendy Sharpe