Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings

Sunset and Oil Paint, 2015

Artist at Lake Mungo

I’ve found it quite a challenge to capture the way that the last citron flash of light at sunset in the desert can be a metaphor for aspects of painting about painting. It correlates to the flash of inspiration as it transitions into paint placed onto a two dimensional surface. The eye of inspiration closes or is obscured as the other eye opens to the process.

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“Selfies” in oil paint

The genre of self portraiture, once limited to artists (or photographers when they shot a mirror-image), has been democratised with the invention of the cell phone and almost become the mainstream genre at present.

This  artistic genre could be described as one where viewer and artist share the same gaze. The viewer sharing the gaze can look into the artist’s soul and mind on one hand, or in some other examples of traditional art share the way that an artist of the Baroque for instance gave a self portrait to a prospective client to be ‘read’ like a CV where skill was displayed in the painting  of flesh and different fabrics as well as metal and other surfaces.


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Self-Portrait in Action. 2014IMG_2259Oil paint was the ideal  medium in which to render beautiful surfaces but now in the 21st century what does it offer the viewer and artist in this genre with its characteristic flat surface in comparison to performances or conceptual art projects about identity? Do the reasons for it existence still seem relevant?

What keeps me interested is that I can allude to past symbolism as well as explore psychological experiences, vulnerabilities and memories.  The qualities of transparency, semi-opacity and opacity within the medium help me to depict these transitions. By breaking up the form of the head with different objects that allude to the processes of sight and painting action I can denote moments when the artist in a sense “plunges into darkness” ( Derrida) that mentally exists  between observation of the image and paint application. In this small study I began with a drawn line and then moved into paint areas, transparent glazes and then back to the element of line. In one way the act of painting becomes a “selfie” and not my appearance.



Art about Heads in the Landscape (Brachina Gorge)

Titled Maria Located the Golden Spike, 2013, 54x72 cm, oil on gessoed paper

Maria Located the Golden Spike, 2013

Detail from oil painting titled Maria Located the Golden Spike, 2013

Detail from oil painting titled Maria Located the Golden Spike, 2013

When I place a head in the landscape-type of background I try to depict a momentary thought as it appears to cross the subject’s face. This process is about how I think and understand the way that time, the ages and history are recorded in rocks. For me gorge formations are like reading and imagining a story about the earth’s history.

The Golden Spike mentioned in the artwork titles is a particular rock formation dated about 500 million years old located in Brachina gorge in the Flinders Ranges. This locale is also home to fossils that are examples of the first animal life. 

The head-images, abstracted and partially exaggerated anatomy meld with parts of the landscape as though the skull and earth’s crust both hold beneath them the forces of creativity and nature. The abstracted shapes that seem to happen come from an imagined element of the thinking process.

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Seascape commission part 1

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Seascape Commission, Point Roadknight

This painting has been a challenge and I have lingered in the final stage of part 1 around drawing together elements of the composition into a coherent visual language. When I focussed on specific breaches in the land form where erosion cut across the rocky promontory I imagined the future destruction of this interesting and intriguing place. With that feeling in mind I could articulate different levels of meaning and tension between the geology on one hand and the erosion that reveals its interesting features on the other.

The wet poured paint washes will require several days to dry before application of impasto strokes. Two washes of mid and light blue bled together then another indigo wash was poured over them in an area that counter balanced the larger indigo passage in the bottom right hand section. A few awkward passages of paint require more attention.

The composition has more energy and tension between light and dark passages and heightened colour but is a bit busy.

I feel that more subtle tonal variation is required on the ‘colonnade’ on the right hand area which at this stage is a flat indigo shape.

The ‘colonnade’ overpowered the composition so I thought a change in tonal value and colour where the dark indigo right hand side became lighter and the lighter left hand darker and more indigo in colour would draw together elements in the composition. The breach in the land form by the ocean seemed to divide both sides of the composition rather than be the focal point.

At this stage the painting at the end of part 1 is a little too literal and any abstracted visual elements that refer to the artist’s gaze and future imaginings lost.

In part 2 these improvements will be part of the continuing journey.

Seascape final stage of oil paint companion to Point Roadknight commission


Seascape, stages in a painting’s development

The slide show reveals how this painting came together in many stages. It was a companion to a commission so it is at present untitled, however the subject matter is the erosion of an interesting land form on the Great Ocean Road called Point Roadknight. Although the coastline is a fragile one and weathering is part of the natural cycle I always feel upset when I notice yet another rocky feature lost to the ocean. In the painting I depict breaches in the rock where tide floods across the rock platform. I exaggerated tidal flow as I imagined a future breach at an already eroded section of the point where the next cascade of ocean on the south side will eventually pour over the rock into the bay.

The early stage consisted of  under-painting with ink and gesso in which frottage taken from the rock surface was glued into position.

Elements of composition, colour and tone came next in a loose configuration unified by strong lines drawn with an oil paint stick.

Once the shapes were blocked in, tone and colour in desired range of intensity established I stared pouring paint in a way that alluded to flowing water.

The white foam and shadow created a contrast that appeared to overwhelm the composition and made it too fussy so I put in some greys and poured light over dark in a diagonal direction.

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Advancing Tide at Sunrise

Seascape oil painting commission continued

Final Stages

Seascape oil painting commission now in the final stages continued as I poured another semi-transparent glaze over indigo. The idea was to give the blue water an illusion of depth. The indigo colour has been part of the under-painting as well as over-painting that consisted of the definition of columnar rock-shapes visible in the detail image and shadows to be further developed in the next stage.

Seascape oil painting commission continued, final stages based on Point Roadknight

Seascape, oil Painting commission continued, final stages based on Point Roadknight

Oil painting commission continued, detail, final stages based on Point roadknight

Seascape oil painting commission continued, detail, final stages based on Point Roadknight

At the same time I introduced visual elements into the composition that related to vision, that is, the artist’s gaze was also implicated in what was seen and how the subject was organised in space.

The suggestion of divisions like those in a triptych was my way to explain how erosion over millennia  has left standing portals or sentinels of the hardest rocks that appear to divide this land-form into three broad shapes punctuated by distinct gaps.

This winter erosion further under-cut large rocks with one in particular falling on its side and others broken, snapping off like teeth. I often feel sad at the loss of these unusual pillar-like shapes that looked so permanent.

Rock erosion, broken columns at Point Roadknight

Rock erosion, broken columns at Point Roadknight

Final Stages of untitled companion painting

Seascape oil painting, untitled companion, final stage, based on Point Roadknight

Seascape, oil painting untitled companion, final stage, based on Point Roadknight

The companion painting required more depth in the foreground layers. A thin glaze under the opaque over-painting looked too thin and a bit scrappy. The opaque quality allows for effective colour richness and transparency when the under layer dries. The transparent layer should glow but not too much.

My paintings often take months to complete owing to the introduction of glazes throughout the build up of layers. Sounds like a layer cake. When I was teaching my students and I would laugh at this so-called “Sara Lee” effect. It’s often regarded as a traditional painting technique practiced by the Old Masters. I love all the qualities of the oil medium which range from transparent, semi-transparent, semi-opaque through to opaque. When I’m asked  do a commission I usually do other versions while paint dries but also I see a single topic in different ways.

Oil Painting Commission continued

Final Stages of Commission

Final Stages of Commission

Final Stages

At this stage I built up paint layers as an attempt to suggest shallow water on the left side of the composition. However still required is more structure and clarity of focus. Simplification of the colour with more tone might strengthen and give more solidity to the land form. A balancing of the form and the process of its disintegration through erosion needs more attention.

Untitled companion oil and mixed media

Untitled companion to Commission 1

Untitled companion to Commission 1

Untitled companion painting, detail

Untitled companion painting, detail

This composition also needs the structure strengthened and more tone to the left. A little more warmth in colour on the left and getting some overly busy areas consolidated are my next stage in the process. The image of the detail is the busy area under scrutiny.