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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Art landscape painting titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45x55 cm, oil on board. Lake Mungo is a dried lake in southern New South Wales, Australia

Poetry by Patricia Sykes and Painting the Landscape at Lake Mungo


The small featured image above titled Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013, 45×55 cm, part of my series on the Home page titled Begin with Sand, Silt and Water, had a gestation of 22 years, an unusually long time frame.

My first trip to Mungo, when I joined a group of friends and camped, was tricky because we set off in December when the temperature reached 40 degrees. By late afternoon it was time, having sheltered in the camping ground, to explore, sketch and take photographs as evening set in and stars emerged. The next day consensus to reach water-filled Menindee lakes meant that exploration at the mysterious and haunting dry Lake Mungo was severely curtailed. A very disappointed artist feeling a little short-changed vowed to return. So I found it difficult to start work, however the result was one oil painting of a sand blown grumpy person standing in front of a night sky.

Portrailt profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84x60 cm

Portrait profile, titled Sand Blown, 1991, oil on canvas 84×60 cm

Another excursion

In 2001 a poet friend and I set out in Late September, intending to camp for a week at least. Some things that I noticed about this arrival  were the absence of deeply eroded gullies, a relatively smooth terrain and the vast stretch of sky. The country was in the grip of an extremely severe drought so naturally gullies were now buried under layers of sand. Although we took notes, photographs and sketches, harsh conditions and dust storms  sent us scurrying for cover. I felt an existential uneasiness caused by a type of desert exposure, the relentless blue sky and reflected heat from sand, compared for example with the embrace of a colourful gorge.

It was as though we were being watched from below which the painting above hints at without my realisation at the time. The sense that there was no relief from this desiccated but beautiful place was unnerving and once again like this site, creativity also dried. It wasn’t until evening that the desert’s multi-coloured sand mirrored the colours in the sky. Until evening, the sun’s relentless bright light faded subtle colour and the pools of our shadows felt as though they could draw us down into the earth.  Full stop for me again.


The image above ‘called out’ one day, it became a touchstone so although I wanted to paint a landscape I painted instead a portrait of my fellow traveller and poet, seen below in a painting titled  Dust Borne. At that time we were captivated by the vastness of a night sky’s black backdrop throwing into contrast the milky way,  visible clearly only in the desert. It was then that I remembered her poem about Mungo.

Expressionist portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper. From series titled Poet's Process.

Portrait oil painting titled Dust Borne, 2013, oil on gessoed paper 100×50 cm

This poem written in 2004 came to my rescue . The excerpt below from the poem titled, ” blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech”, from Modewarre: Home Ground, described  ideas and feelings we shared at the Mungo site.


between fluidity

and fixity the pilgrim poem begins to turn

cerulean blue           it is thinking of island

as metaphor for self and wishes to fly there

later, an artist friend e-writes me her theory

that brain cells re-wire themselves when

new images emerge

some live some die

we decide our techno-umbilical conversations

are a thin layer of water clarifying our mutual

obsession with elements mirroring each other

as in shredded emotions and the luminous

Mungo sands          it’s not the sands that make

us feel phoney         it’s the gawk factor, tourism

in the season of ‘ going there’       our paltry tents

among the dust storms              and thirst so driven

a kangaroo stealths in to drink the dishwater

               what the moon sees the moon exposes

among the now eyes the bones the hard facts shifting

shifting                 old fingers of hunger which  cannot settle

and why should they why should they if it is only

to make a future comfortable

                    ‘ the grief that can be trusted is the one

                       that does not defuse itself in optimism’ –

remember the flocked galahs at the Walls of China

the wrought change as they stilled their garrulous

pinks and greys to silence and faced the setting sun

the sun dyeing the clouds the same tonal flush

the galahs taking their own colour back into their

feathers            miracle of re-absorption not even

the night’s consuming indigo can rob them of –

continuity without loss?      the final room refuses

to close itself        as when in dreams some events

can only be viewed through feathered doors  1.


Creative juices started up-welling when I read the words  “cerulean blue”. In Remnant Lake Mungo, 2013 this cool opaque blue of the sky ‘dome’ visually dissolved the outlines, apart from the dust in the air, of the Walls of China. This name refers to the long rows of dunes that characterise this place. Their colour is a shade of pink  caused by leaching from red soil. The Westerly wind-blown particles from the red soil of lunettes at the other side of Lake Mungo blow onto the dunes.  In the small painting below depiction of a haunting place has been a long time in coming.

Sykes, Patricia. 2004. "landishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech." In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29-30. Melbourne: Spinifex.

Book of poems by Patricia Sykes titled, Modewarre: Home Ground.


1.  Sykes, Patricia. 2004.blandishments and enticements, visuals of electronic speech.” In Modewarre: Home Ground, pp. 29 – 30. Melbourne: Spinifex.