Wendy Sharpe was born in Sydney in 1960. After studying at the Seaforth Technical College, Sydney, between 1978 and 1979, she attended the City Art Institute, Sydney where she earned a Graduate Diploma of Professional Art in 1984. In 1995 Sharpe completed a Master's degree at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales.
The artist has won several art awards and participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions. After winning the Sulman Prize in 1996, she traveled to Paris to undertake residency at the Cité Internationale des Arts. In 1990 Sharpe completed a significant commission to create eight large murals for the Cook and Philip Aquatic Centre, Sydney. In 1996 she won the Archibald Prize for 'Self-portrait as Diana of Erskineville'. She has also won the Portia Geach Memorial Prize twice (1995 and 2003), and the Sulman Prize (1986). In 2018 Sharpe was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New South Wales.
In 1999 the Memorial appointed Sharpe to observe and document the Australian peacekeepers in East Timor. She was the first woman to be officially appointed since the Second World War, following the tradition established by Nora Heysen, Stella Bowen and Sybil Craig.
Sharpe commenced duty in Darwin, where she attended briefing sessions and recorded the everyday activities of life in the barracks. On 12 December she departed for East Timor on HMAS 'Jervis Bay'. Attached to the Army History Unit, she was assigned a military escort and wore a non-combatant uniform with the insignia "Australian Official Artist". Sharpe spent three weeks sketching the local people and Australian peacekeepers, before returning to Sydney to complete major works based on her observations.
The works of art completed during her official appointment present a positive view of the challenge of rebuilding a nation. For example 'Lecture theatre, Rowell Centre, Darwin' is a charcoal drawing, enlivened by dabs of gouache indicating the camouflage of the uniforms. 'Kenyan, Australian and German soldiers at an 8 am briefing, Interfet Headquarters, Dili' portrays the multinational character of the Interfet Peacekeeping Force. 'Children given school materials' and 'Soldiers with refugees, Dili' show the compassionate side of soldiering in a country torn apart by conflict.
Sharpe's empathy for the East Timorese people and her love of figures and faces is evident in her work. 'Washing clothes: Dalila and Maria' depicts two local women performing everyday tasks. 'Midnight at Suai Cathedral' captures the drama and terror of the local community reliving its horrific experience; the green faces and orange and red sky create a sense of apprehension. In marked contrast, 'Christmas 'Tour of Duty' concert, Dili' is exuberant, high-spirited and filled with sensual forms celebrating human survival.
Sharpe continues to paint predominantly portraits, dividing her time between her studios in both France and Australia, as well as residencies around the world.