Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings

A Patricia Sykes Poem “On your suicide coast”, 2013 : Allegory and Art

On my Home Page I have removed the previous images ( etchings; intaglio, chine-colle and collage) about the forces of nature from the series titled:

Return to Sand and Water

and added more images from that series which are about the artist and a process of insight. The artist like a diver plunges into the ocean of the mind and brings up ‘pieces of insight’ not the spark of an idea but the process of creativity that brings that idea to fruition. Also included is a poem titled On your suicide coast, by Patricia Sykes, 2013

Behind the process of insight theme depicted in these etchings was a tragic story.

Usually at Point Roadknight my impetus derives from the forces of nature or the sheer beauty of sunrise and back-lit cloud formations however this time was different. It was an unexpected tragic situation that I thought I’d forgotten about but which just popped up unexpectedly. On the ocean side of Point Roadknight rocky ledges reach like outstretched hands into the ocean and it was at this location that a friend called me on her mobile to hurry and meet her. What started as an early morning walk for her ended in both of us identifying a washed up body lying face down on the sand.

The very sad thing for me was that he could not be stopped from this ‘final dive’ by the beauty of this place.

We both  found an outlet in poetry and art for the topic of suicide but not as a collaboration. I had not set out to do a series of etchings informed by the poem.

Earlier I had some old prints that I tore up and collaged into new compositions. The torn image was one of the Hanged Man and was about an art student’s Performance as this persona; painted in white chalk, hanging from rafters with musician also performing on the side of the hanging figure. I turned the image around so that it could be read as a diving figure, omitted the musicians and integrated the male figure into the land/seascape and then it unexpectedly reminded me of the suicide.

The figure reaching into the watery underworld has been used in art and literature frequently as an allegory about art and poetry for example the image of Narcissus by Caravaggio, 1600 becomes an allegory of painting.


We had been working separately at different times with this material and I had put mine away for several years until recently when I noticed that they seemed in sympathy with each other – simpatico.

This poem by Patricia Sykes is titled:

On your suicide coast

a holiday of bodies in languid sprawl

as if death is never a stalker

a strange aliveness

       their lassitude

      disturbed by no breath of yours

       though they loll among the gone of it

some scan the horizon, the sky,

less from anxiety than the habit

of eyes as wings, the shadows

      fleeting their faces are mostly sea birds

      a streak of sooty crests

      through bright indifferent sunlight

did you admire the tenacity of terns,

how they hug the shore like guards?

my eyes your surrogates fly

      to 96° west, the SOS marker

      that hovered above your suicide like a metal angel

      it hovers still, its yellow vigilance

defies rust, its loyalty to the drowned

and the bereft told in griefs of flowers

though you were a stranger here

      though the last spume to touch you

      slid off the marker’s face

      like incidental sea spray

the wheeling terns are not crying

an absolute goodbye

death is constant burial

      I give you back to water

      the way a parent trusts an infant to a cradle

      this time the surge and thrash

is gentler; strange fish nibble my fingers,

as if you left a hunger here, the ocean

though speaks of nothing but cold


Patricia Sykes, 2013


Poetics in Imagery

One way I depict the content of a story in my imagery is through a time honoured method that can be termed poetics, metaphor or allegory; that is using one story to tell another in the case of allegory.

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Surrealist portrait titled The Walls of China are Silent, 2014, 50x75 cm, oil on canvas from the series titled Poet's process

Art and Poetry at Lake Mungo, part 2

From a series of paintings titled Inside the Poet’s Process

Painting titled The Walls of China are Silent, 2013 – 14

Surrealist portrait titled The Walls of China are Silent, 2014, 50x75 cm, oil on canvas from the series titled Poet's process

The Walls of China are Silent, 2014, oil on canvas 50×75 cm

The early stage formed quickly perhaps too quickly because as the painting progressed I felt that the initial freshness was compromised. I repainted structure into the face but in the process I lost transparencies and an ethereal type of atmosphere. It was part of my way to suggest that sense of remote insignificance and almost feeling like another grain of sand. The title referred to a row of sand dunes where humans inhale the dusty atmosphere, the dust of past silent civilisation made worse by extreme drought at the time. The image of an enlarged ear referred to a heightened state of awareness as we listened to the land.

In the following stages I simplified the lake shape and blurred it with a poured semi-transparent layer of paint as a way to depict the sand and dust enveloping the poet’s image.  In recent changes I reconfigured the head and face, reestablished part of the form and introduced a shape that referred to a direction of vision and focus. (I often felt as though I was standing in the middle of no-where.)

A dark hair-like shape hovering above the head reminded me of windy conditions prevalent at the time and it seemed to refer to how a poem may form.

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The result is not working for me yet and looks too laboured and over-stated having lost earlier transparent passages of paint and line. Fluidity and movement and a sense of vulnerability are missing.

I reintroduced a linear rectangle shape. Not happy with the colour intensity I modified it and added more body colour.

Surface sanding was required and more detail with the idea of introducing a more tonally nuanced background that would partly obscure the newly introduced elements. With the background repainted I introduced a grey sweep of hair that I changed with a white line encompassing the general shape. My depiction of the hair changed because in the earlier version the type of brush stroke suggested a state of turbulent, windswept atmosphere and an imagined process of the poet’s creativity. On recollection I don’t mind the high rise hair-do and may use it in another image.

However I wanted a reversal of my earlier intention and reconstructed the hair shape to allude instead to a sense of silence.  It mirrored a hesitation, a type of containment we felt before heading across the dry lake bed toward the distant dunes named ‘The Walls of China’ that shimmered like a mirage. The poet’s process had barely begun.

Ear to the Foreground, 2014, 62x84 cm, mixed media and oil on canvas from the series titled Poet's Process

Art and Poetry at Lake Mungo, part 1

Image from the series titled Inside the Poet’s Process

Painting titled Ear to the Foreground, 2014

Ear to the Foreground, 2014, 62x84 cm, mixed media and oil on canvas from the series titled Poet's Process

Ear to the Foreground, 2014, mixed media and oil on canvas

When my friend and I set out for Lake Mungo from a camping ground garden of tropical vegetation beside the Murray River our vehicle soon encountered the very familiar corrugated surface and bull dust-covered large pot holes of many Outback roads. The contrast between each environment could not have been more stark as the temperature soared, dust increased and vegetation became sparse. At Lake Mungo National Park having checked out the visitor’s centre I became aware of the silence, wide horizon and canopy of cloudless blue sky. This initial impression was what I tried to express as I relived the experience through a poem written by my travel companion poet Patricia Sykes. After many conversations with Patricia about identifying response to environment and what and how the word/image flows from one another into a poem’s structure; meaning, rhythm, sound, words their position, lines and their format, my aim was to imagine and internalise points in this discussion about a creative process. Instead of drawing and painting outlines of a portrait form in a background space I wanted inlines not to amplify perspective and form but to flow into the environment and coalesce into proto imagery as it formed mentally and often instantly appeared as if from nowhere in the mind’s eye. Baroque era iconography often referred to the connection between poetry and painting in the form of allegorical figures called Pictura and Poesia; one woman with brush and palette the other with pen and paper. I began by blocking in the image with thinned paint and compressed charcoal. The image started with a dune shape behind the head. I changed this because my first impression was a perceived emptiness as we both confronted the dunes from a distance. To reach them required driving across the dry lake bed of Lake Mungo.  I added an abstracted shape that alluded to the path of vision. The shape referring to the line of vision obscured the poet’s eye. I intended to make a reference to the black algae encrusted lake bed situated along this line of vision. But it didn’t work and looked too busy so simplicity was required. ( I always want to put in everything knowing most of it will be painted over.) I lightened the background colour as the previous layer looked thin and scrappy. Intense blue of the background needed some body before another application and adjustment and addition to the head image. This painting didn’t take long and the original fresh energy of the initial sketch carried into the final layers which I try to do but not always successfully. I like the underpainting to remain part of the final layer. This image can also be viewed at:  www.facebook.com/pages/Desterreart

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