Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


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Selfies about Allegory and Apotheosis

Background

Allegory played a central part in traditional oil painting as it allowed artists to create imagery that was about reflecting their new upwardly mobile status from artisan to professional, after the ending of Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. For example in his Self- Portrait 1500, Durer made an allusion to an almost divine status and solemnly modelled himself on the Vera Icon or true image.

 

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On the other hand Artemisia Gentileschi partly referred to Ripa’s iconography of the personification of the Allegory of painting ( based on the Ancient Greek goddess Athena ) and modelled herself on a revision of this particular representation. Her version showed a figure at work minus the gag that was an accompanying emblem of the allegory of painting figure. It alluded to painting as the silent art in comparison to poetry. The depiction of the head and highlighted brow and eyes referred to the state of vision and the idea of the rational, whereas the hands often referred to the senses and the irrational, as though the mind and body were split in two. Artemisia Gentileschi in this painting titled Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1630 appears to show how both mind and body interact.

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 Explanation

I have been influenced by her revisionist approach to establishment Baroque iconography because although it occurred centuries ago it still cast a long shadow into the 20th and 21st centuries in the ways that women are still  represented and portrayed. I think I will call this series of small oil and mixed media works on paper  The Selfie as an Allegory of Vision : Homage to Artemisia Gentileschi.

I tried to depict aspects of different thought processes about identity, painting and place. For example the “Light is in the Blood” part of four titles refer to the complexity and interactions between sight, memory and action. For me its as though a mental image at the front of my mind flows somehow into my body in different stages that each require a double back into mental reflection, after and from which the flow of blood transports a random and often messy mental image into my hand and fingers.

When I refer to places like “Karijini” and “Lake Mungo”apart from documentation, my depictions are about how I feel on a visceral level, as both part of the landscape and at the same time being mentally dwarfed by the appreciation of my place in time, walking on a living ancient planet. It is as though the landscape watches.

The objects  “mirror” and “window” refer to different ways of looking. We only see a mirror image of ourselves and not as others see us. Which memory of that image or selected aspect of it ends up on the canvas and during the memory transition what else enters this mental space;  how much information from other sources can can I let in?  The use of perspective in painting is sometimes referred to as if we are looking through a window but we are also apart of what it is that we look at.

In the two paintings about the mobile phone I used its shape to resemble an ancient Minoan/Ariadnian column so that I combined references to ancient and modern imagery,  reaching back and then reaching forward simultaneously as a way to avoid constructing stereotypical female imagery.

The topic of self-portraiture is centuries old and representations often in a traditional style. I like to combine bits of ‘realism or naturalism’ with abstracted elements and gestural paint application as I have absorbed aspects of some 20th century “isms” and combine linear drawn mark making with areas of impasto, thin and thick paint layering and visual elements taken from several periods of art history. So much to choose from.

 

References

Garrard, Mary. 1989. Artemisia Gentileschi: the Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. Princeton : New Jersey

Moxey, Keith. 1994. “Hieronymus Bosch and the “World Upside Down”. In Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, eds., Visual Culture : Images and Interpretation, 104 – 140. New England : Hanover and London

Carol P. Christ is my source for the term “Ariadnian”.


Artwork underpainting continues

This small mixed media is “finished ” and when it dries very minor tonal gradation may be require in the background.

The underpaintings following need radical alteration notably ‘underpainting 8’ which is about halfway to getting there. The next image also needs more focus and the last one still requires more structure in the composition.

I was sure the “finished” image was going to give me problems but it was the last image thought to be a breeze earlier that now looks tricky.


Artwork underpaintings struggle stage

This is always the push and pull stage: erase, reintroduce line, change the meaning, get a bit precious, attack with turpentine rag and wipe off image. Although these are small studies measuring about 50×35 cm they often challenge me more than larger works.

The journey from inspiration to creation is always tricky. For instance I’m inspired by the idea that the viewer is not a distant observing  subject capturing an object in paint or any other medium. I try not to produce an aesthetic of possession or of total control. In a way I feel observed by the terrain/land/environment/geology/geomorphology through which I pass and that my creative process mirrors that of the earths’.

Ideas like tectonic plates  slide under and over each other, melt, coalesce into different thought patterns. Images and ideas can well up unexpectedly and fracture safe, formulaic and comfortable assumptions and techniques. For me it is like a mirroring of creativity and the processes can be convoluted, unexpected, annoying and frustrating as “failures” often hold the seeds of new ideas and point the way to new directions and paths for further exploration.

For example the last 2 images have been a source of frustration as I was trying to combine two different pictorial formats, that is, how cupules in rocks produced 50,000 years ago and used as depression into which eyes were painted could relate to our pictorial conventions. Neither the idea, composition or technique has been resolved and it requires attention but I feel it is part of something further down the track.

The source of this rock art eye imagery was included in a lecture by the Kimberley Foundation.


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Artwork and underpainting progress

The under paintings gradually take shape in unexpected directions.

Some minor alterations were required to lighten tones and enhance contrasts. Feeling ambivalent about the sombre colours. I want more vibrant intense colour. And on reflection I prefer some of the underpainting to the ‘finished’ image. Back to the drawing board. I wanted to express some of the reflections of being immersed in the gorges in the Pilbara. Untitled 3 looks more like the sands of Lake Mungo and the feeling often experienced in the desert where wind and sand appear to erase evidence of existence. (In fact fossilised footprints 40,000 years + old were found imprinted into what was originally a bed of clay).


Sketch and Underpainting stage for Untitled Commission

Preliminary studies of Point Roadknight

This commissioned painting in its very early stages started out as a seascape depiction of erosion at Point Roadknight but something in me had become dissatisfied and I felt like a change of subject matter. I turned the canvas on its side into vertical position and imagined how I could retain aspects of the original subject and combine it with an emergent figurative shape that seemed to float as a ghostly indistinct form. The idea figures merging into and out of landforms such as those in Begin with Sand, Silt and Water seems suitable now only instead of those done with the Golden Spike in the Flinders Ranges I would depict aspects of Point Roadknight.

These sketches are the preliminary studies done several months ago before I began this commission where I have been given free rein.

Art titled Contemplating the Golden Spike 1, 2013, 55x75 cm, gouache, charcoal and pastel from Begin with Sand, Silt and Water


Artwork, preparatory sketches and photographs

These sketches and photographs were preliminaries for the body of work titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, 2012 – 2013,  and were a part of my process before and during painting, a part of memorising and reconnecting with original feelings on site.

There is a slideshow on my Home Page where you can see how the paintings turned out.


Revisit sketchbook from Kakadu and Nitmiluk continued

From sketchbook to work on paper

My sketchbook images were reference for larger images mainly because I usually capture energy and movement in the initial mark making. Several images done on folded Fabriano print making paper meant that being absorbent the fibers would retain my application of pastel staining. Large pastel stick grated with my Stanley box cutter knife stained and bled into damp paper but also mixed in water like a slurry. Because the paper was tough and absorbent I made lines into which colour accumulated by gouging into the paper with the blunt side of my knife. For example:

Flood plain at Anbangbang Billabong

Sketch in ink pen from Anbangbang Billabong

Sketch in ink pen from Anbangbang Billabong

Two parts of this landscape captured my attention. Firstly the hole in one end of the background rock formation that reminded me of an eye. It felt as though we were being watched from afar. The other part was the dry billabong where triangle-shaped debris made of dry vegetation caught on sticks and branches. Swept into these shapes by a raging torrent in the previous wet season, they scattered across the flood plain . The other element captured was heat haze on the plain with blue sky. The pastel image with jagged lines resembling teeth may have been influenced sub-consciously by warnings to watch out for crocodiles.


Revisit old sketchbook, artwork from Kakadu and Nitmiluk

I revisited my Kakadu influenced artwork when a recent TV programme investigated park ranger’s work at Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks during the wet season that made possible safe passage for dry season visitors.

My previous series of works involved archaeological sites and Museums in Crete so the word “archaeology ” was fresh in my mind and also suggested by a fellow painter as part of the series title which is An Archaeology of Landscape. The reason was that I metaphorically connected the forces of nature and those of the archaeologist and miner. Both pare back layers of overburden although time’s span obviously vary to reveal essential structures or objects; the earth’s structures like ancient ruins and relics like specific types of rock.

As a dry season visitor and member of a painting group my immediate sketches were produced on site in gorges, beside billabongs and outliers. Frottage technique of rubbing pencil over a surface covered with paper as well earth staining paper from wet rice or handmade paper was another way to bring back to my studio impressions from this place.


Oil Painting Commission

EARLY STAGES

This commission is centered on a land-form called Point Roadknight situated on the Surf Coast along the Great Ocean Road. Part of my process includes taking photographs and frottage. The photographs show the context, the environment in which the specific rocks that structure this feature of the landscape. The particular rocks are columnar in shape and resemble revealed ancient ruins  as softer material around then eroded. The columnar shaped rocks are hard but also brittle mineralised calcification caused by rain leaching through top layers of the land-form. The painting is about erosion of the rock face and its reflection in pools and on wet sand. I would like the final image to show a partly dissolved structure surrounded by a watery environment. I approach this topic with nostalgia because the rate of erosion seems quite fast as each winter less of the Point remains especially these ” columns”  and their configuration. But first the  visual and tactile exploration.

Point Roadknight reflections photograph taken early morning.

Point Roadknight reflections photograph taken early morning.

Point Roadknight columns erosion.

Point Roadknight columns erosion.

Sand and Reflection photograph with sunrise reflecting on rocks in turn reflected in wet sand.

Sand and Reflection photograph with sunrise reflecting on rocks in turn reflected in wet sand.

These are only three of the many studies that  help me appreciate the action of water and the resulting erosion. I then take frottage from rocks in this area.

Frottage 1 on rice paper taken from rock surface reminiscent of an entablature.

Frottage 1 on rice paper taken from rock surface reminiscent of an entablature.

Frottage taken from transverse section of a broken column at Point Roadknight.

Frottage taken from transverse section of a broken column at Point Roadknight.

Frottage taken from the internal wall of a broken column at Point Roadknight.

Frottage taken from the internal wall of a broken column at Point Roadknight.

I moulded  rice paper to particular rock  textures over which I rubbed graphite to produce a type of print or rubbing called a frottage.

The next stage involved placing the rice paper frottage onto the canvas with gesso where I combined them with a rough ink drawing. Then I poured ink and gesso onto the surface as a way to suggest part of the rock structure. A blue over painting wash consisted of oil painted diluted with gum turpentine.

Underpainting 1consisted of the frottages, ink and gesso.

Underpainting consisted of the frottage, ink and gesso.

Underpainting detail

Underpainting detail

The second ink and gesso layer over painted with the  third layer of gum turpentine oil paint wash.

The second ink and gesso layer over painted with the third layer of gum turpentine oil paint wash.


Women’s History, Influential ” inVisible Women “

Some images from prehistory have influenced many artists throughout the course of the 20th century, many of which can be found in the new book titled Invisible Women of Prehistory: three million years of peace, six thousand years of war by Judy Foster with Marlene Derlet.

Some of my earlier work from the 1970s to the 90s was influenced by Tassili rock art.

Tassili wall painting

Female Entity 2, 1980, gouache, ink, charcoal, pastel 40x28 cm. Permission of the collector.

Female Entity 2, 1980, gouache, ink, charcoal, pastel. Permission of the collector 40×28 cm

Goddess Head, 1992, 24x34 cm print, 34x68 cm paper, relief and intaglio.

Goddess Head, 1992, relief and intaglio 24×34 cm print, 34×68 cm paper

Later aspects of the Minoan Bronze Age and Ancient Greek myth influenced me because these legends were on the fringe of history and prehistory. The imagery on the excavated art, sculpture, artifacts and architecture were witness to cultural and social upheaval. However in Minoan figurines were displayed positive depictions of women often depicted in rituals and social interaction. They were not confined to domestic spheres.

Illustrations by Judy Foster, from Invisible Women of Prehistory: three million years of peace, six million years of war, sourced from Baring and Cashford (1991)

Neolithic Minoan Crete: Knossos. Archaeological finds at the complex at Knossos 6km from Heraklion.
Illustrations by Judy Foster, sourced from Invisible Women of Prehistory: three million years of peace, six million years of war.

These sensitively depicted drawings by Judy Foster are interesting because they show that in Crete styles of sculpture appeared to change over time. Figures 1 and 2 are dated approx. 4500 BC. The Neolithic style of imagery, theriomorphic and stylised meant that it referred to all women. Where as figures 3 and 4, dated approx. 1600 BC depict a particular person. Generally art of the Neolithic has an abstract character compared with that of Minoan Crete where naturalism came to the fore, The type of activity, style of dress details, attributes and emblems were rendered carefully. In comparison figures 1 and 2 are static, that is the body and head morph and distort into aspects of a snake, bird and column. However the later representations that also refer to animals show depictions of real figures and real animals. Instead of a columnar shaped head and neck in figure 1 the image, that is figure 3, of what is thought to be a priestess has a column shaped headdress.
What these four figures have in common is complex symbolism, aspects of which are explored in this book.

The symbolism and meaning became a poetic source incorporated into my imagery as I aimed to combine Minoan symbolism with European oil painting. I visited Crete to aid to my research in 1993.

The Eye Ritual, diptych, 1995 - 1996,  oil on canvas 92x120 cm

The Eye Ritual, diptych, 1995 – 1996, oil on canvas 92×120 cm

My imagery during the last ten years developed and changed, the symbolism remained but functioned as a form of disguised symbolism. This enabled me to use the paint in a freer mode where its organic texture combined with abstract shapes. The image below is from a series titled Eye and Site 3.

Reaching the Image, 2011, gouache.

Reaching the Image, 2011, gouache 50×70 cm

The painting titled Recall, 2008, is from a series titled Eye and Site 2.

Recall, 2008, oil on canvas 82x120 cm

Recall, 2008, oil on canvas 82×120 cm


Walga Rock

Walga (Walganna) Rock, 1.8 km long and composed of post-tectonic granite, is one of the many whalebacks scattered throughout the Yilgarn Craton. Situated on the Western section of the craton which consists of rocks of every Archean era with zircons dating back to the Hadean also clastic sedimentary rock. It consists of K-feldspar porphyritic monogranite that forms the type area thought to be approx. 2.5 billion years old.

Walga Rock cave entrance before sunset.

Walga Rock cave entrance before sunset.

Above the gallery situated on the cave wall are large slabs of granite in the process of ‘peeling off’  the main rock form. This process is caused by expansion and contraction of the surface because of extreme seasonal and diurnal temperatures in this inland (300 km), arid climate. Rain water and wind erosion molded and eroded the lower recessed section of the rock.

Walga Rock wind and rain water erosion ' peeling off ' slabs of granite.

Walga Rock wind and rain water erosion ‘ peeling off ‘ slabs of granite.

Wind and water erosion

Wind and water erosion forming cave wall.

The rock overhang protected the array of paintings. The depiction of a masted boat was quoted by archaeologists  as evidence of contact with sailors of European origin, firstly Dutch and then later archaeological evidence suggested a similarity between this depiction and the nineteenth century coastal steamer SS Xantho. (Bigourdan, 2006)

I took a rubbing/frottage from rocks as well as rice paper stains from soil far from the enclosure. They are a way for me to connect with the place via a tactile experience when I return to my studio. Often I adhere them with gesso to the canvas surface.

Walga Rock frottage, 22/04/13, 7.30 am, graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Walga Rock frottage, 22/04/13, 7.30 am, graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Walga Rock paper stain 1, 24/04/13, 7.40 am, soil stain on rice paper.

Walga Rock paper stain 1, 24/04/13, 7.40 am, soil stain on rice paper.

This technique is one that includes quick sketches done on site. Below are previous examples of this mixing of different media which I meld into large oil paintings. They may be viewed on my website : desterreart.com.au and are part of a series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Escarpment, 2007, 98x84 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape. Courtesy of the D. Hutton collection.

Escarpment, 2007, 98×84 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas
from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.
Courtesy of the D. Hutton collection.

Water Etching, 2003, 140x120 cm, mixed media on board from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Water Etching, 2003, 140×120 cm, mixed media on board
from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Igneous 2, 2004, 214x108 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas from series titled An Archaeology of Landscape

Igneous 2, 2004, 214×108 cm, oil and mixed media on canvas
from series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

P.S.  Correction: Feldspar should read K-feldspar. The “K”, refers to the Potassium content of feldspar. There are 3 K feldspars: microcline, sanidine and orthoclase (orthoclase and plagioclase, another type of feldspar, are often easily seen in volcanic rocks, they’re usually a milky to pinkish white).


Frottage from gorges

I took several rubbings from different sections of particular gorges. This is my was to reconnect to a place when I paint it later in my studio. Often I adhere frottage or stained paper to the canvas surface by placing it in a gesso solution as part of the under-painting. Because the materials are rice paper and graphite or charcoal there is a flexibility that enables me to alter dimensions by folding or tearing the paper to fit the theme and the composition.

Daled Gorge pathway frottage, 19/04/13, 3.00 pm., graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Dales Gorge pathway frottage, 19/04/13, 3.00 pm., graphite and pastel on rice paper.

Dales Gorge frottage, 20/04/13, 12.00 am, graphite on rice paper

Dales Gorge frottage, 20/04/13, 12.00 am, graphite on rice paper

Weano gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.50 am, one of the Karijini National Park gorges, graphite on rice paper.

Weano gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.50 am, one of the Karijini National Park gorges, graphite on rice paper.

Weano Gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.45 am, taken on gorge rim at the lookout, graphite on rice paper.

Weano Gorge frottage, 21/04/13, 10.45 am, taken on gorge rim at the lookout, graphite on rice paper.

The image below is a mixed media titled Stress Fold, 2004 that is one of a series of images which I titled An Archaeology of Landscape. This previous series consisted of oil, mixed media, gouache and pastel stain and was produced as a result of exploring different sites in the Kakadu and Nitmiluk National Parks in the Northern Territory. Viewers may peruse this series  at : desterreart.com.au   Stress Fold is an example of how pieces of frottage  meld into a larger composition.

Stress Fold, 2004, paper, pastel, thread, staples and canvas gessoed on to board.

Stress Fold, 2004, paper, pastel, thread, staples and canvas gessoed on to board 200×90 cm, from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.


Preliminary records of W.Wallabi Island

One of my activities apart from photographic documentation of different landforms was to make a couple of small frottage prints at a specific site. This quick procedure entailed placing rice paper over a specific piece of rock formation and rubbing over the surface with compressed charcoal, graphite or pastel as a way to produce a ‘ print ‘ with place-name, date and time. Because my type of contemporary landscape painting and mixed media is not painted on site but produced in my studio these ‘prints ‘ are like a touchstone that can connect me back to the original place when I insert them into a composition. For example I did two frottages or ‘prints ‘ of rocks at the Pinnacles and at W.Wallabi island.

Pinnacle frottage 1                                                 Pinnacle frottage 2

Pinnacle frottage 1 and 2, one in compressed charcoal and two with a graphite stick.

W.Wallabi frottage 1W.Wallabi frottage 2

W.Wallabi island frottage 1 and 2 both pencil rubbings

on rice paper because it is flexible and durable.

Previous examples of this technique and their application can be viewed on my website at desterreart.com.au in the Gallery under a section titled An Archaeology of Landscape. The two images below are examples of mixed media artworks from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape produced several years ago as the result of an artist’s  tour where we worked in Katherine Gorge and at falls in Litchfield National Park.

Fold, 2003

Fold, 2003, 150×78 cm, mixed media from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape.

Layer, 2003

Layer, 2003, 165×85 cm, mixed media from the series titled An Archaeology of Landscape

Human figures, quick sketches in charcoal


Line Drawing with faces and figures

I enjoy different types of drawing experience. After the quick sketch exercise my next challenge is a more fully realized drawing. The one displayed titled The Lovers is a 40 minute compressed charcoal and pastel drawing where the line and gesture conveyed a sense of immediacy.

The other drawing experience is one where I employ a slower more considered way of drawing more suitable for etching and drypoint. This technique is one way where I express the sense of a quieter mood and stillness shown by the work titled The Keyhole Image 2. This is a single print rather than one of an edition where two plates were printed separately as part of the one image.

ImageImage

The Keyhole Image 2, 2009, intaglio and drypoint on rice paper 25×30 cm print, 50×38 cm paper,

from the series titled Natalie with the Gaze and the Glance.

Life-drawing once the central discipline of art practice has in many art institutions has been neglected and replaced by different technologies. But in order to create a three-dimensional form on a flat surface skills like perspective, foreshortening and knowledge of anatomy are necessary. The placements in a composition of tonal values, colour and texture rely on application of this basic knowledge. Understanding of form, space and then mark making is what life-drawing is about. Line,  evidence of our visual thinking, exploration and research  comes first in my practice.

On another level images of the human form, types of identity, interaction, mood  and drama always engage me. How we define ourselves in a changing world, what we see and what we ignore, and why underpin return to images of ourselves.

The Lovers, 2003, charcoal and pastel 75×56 cm.

Human figures titled Lovers, 2006, life drawing of female and male figures by Elaine d'Esterre

Lovers, 2006, charcoal and pastel 75×56 cm


Artist’s Drawings, quick sketches

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  Before drawing poses that last for 1 or 2 hours I often start with a 2 to 5 minute warm-up quick sketch. This is a normal procedure for artists when attending life drawing classes. Often when I’m struggling with a particular pose in a painting I resort to a detailed rendering of a particular feature such the angle of the hips in relation to the shoulders.