Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


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