Luke Sciberras

Surveying twenty-five years of drawing and painting, the two-venue exhibition Luke Sciberras: Side of the Sky shows us an artist working within, and revitalising, a rich history of Australian landscape painting.

Luke Sciberras’s art is the product of a quarter-century of experiencing the landscape with all his senses. Most recognised for his expressive paintings of Australian and European subjects both close and far from home, his oeuvre is underpinned by an unswerving commitment to drawing, both en plein air and in the studio, and a restless urge to experience the world at its most essential. Since his early lessons from distinguished Australian painter Elisabeth Cummings as a teenager hungry for artistic direction, to the past two decades establishing a sprawling and comfortable base in the historic New South Wales gold rush village of Hill End, Sciberras has never made a painting about a place he’s not been to – nor has he made a painting that wasn’t first derived from drawings.

Sciberras uses drawing as a way of seeing and understanding his subject in the fullest, and painting as the best way to tell its story to the world. The spaces and shadows between objects, the way light links or divides them, the way they relate in concert with each other, are factors of equal importance to the items themselves. It is the consequences of them being there that matters. 

His principal subjects range from portraiture, to still life, to landscape. Animals (or “creatures”) are one focus that have a particularly evocative and empathetic tenor. A sinewy goanna, freshly road-killed bird or sea creature destined for the pot are honoured in centred compositions that celebrate their embodied perfection on the precipice of imminent decay. Their life force, even in death, is palpable. 

Most of Sciberras’s work these days, however, is made in the landscape. A successful drawing or painting session outdoors is contingent on external factors like the weather or the schedule of his companions, so working quickly in concentrated bursts is imperative to observe the changing conditions of a landscape from one hour or season to the next. The fleeting nature of each moment can be countered by capturing it in pencil or paint, a deep and rich memory formed and retained for future work in the studio. The initial drawings are made in a state of deep, immersive concentration in which his eyes decipher the forms he sees, in concert with the information of his other senses. Each vibrates to the sounds of the wind or nearby animals, the sting of the sun on the skin, the tension of the crouched body on the earth, the scent of the trees or salty air. His analytical brain moves to the background as his instincts become charged, on high alert. His awareness of the moment is sensory and multifaceted; in drawing he embeds the experience in memory, a treasure to draw upon for another day. These works are far more evocative and lasting than any photograph.  

Years of practice have lent Sciberras increased confidence to observe and interpret his subjects, and to later develop them into paintings in the studio. In a December 2021 interview with Sciberras, he said to me, “A painting becomes about its own thing, of resolving a work via a myriad of possibilities, going back to the place. In the studio it’s very different – it is about the place. Drawing is of the place. Drawing is giving something to myself. Painting is giving something as a story.”  

Luke Sciberras is an inheritor of a particular legacy that sought to create a national art through the Australian landscape, which includes both his antecedents in Hill End – Drysdale, Friend, Olley, Whiteley and Olsen – and the mentors to whom he has turned throughout his career. While these foundational examples have been vital, however, he also recognises the importance of understanding the particular historic and cultural resonances of his subjects, and actively seeks the guidance of others when discovering new places, from Indigenous custodians of Country to graziers, pearl farmers, and patrons at the local pub. While their input is useful for the logistics of travel, it is vital for his understanding of what it is he is looking upon. In this way, he builds upon the responses to the landscape of his artistic predecessors – coloured by their European antecedents and training – with a contemporary appreciation of Indigenous connection to Country, and the ecological impact of our custodianship of the land, evidenced in the climate-change induced droughts and floods he has captured in his work over the decades. 

In twenty-five years, Luke Sciberras has established his own distinctive language and legacy in a body of paintings, drawings, and prints that will the be the subject of a major two-venue survey exhibition and publication that will demonstrate not just the work of a major Australian artist, but the continued vitality and relevance of landscape painting in Australia.   

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 59, 2022
Images courtesy the artist, Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, and Campbelltown Arts Centre

Luke Sciberras: Side of the Sky
4 June – 7 August 2022
Campbelltown Arts Centre, New South Wales 

Luke Sciberras: Side of the Sky
11 June – 7 August 2022
Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, New South Wales

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