Elaine d'Esterre

Contemporary Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


Art and Symbolic Death

Some of the earliest images in which human features were represented whether sculptures or paintings are associated with funerary ritual. In this sense an imagined preservation of self and identity was contained within a portrait or a death mask. For example this sculpture is a 3 million year old pebble, Makapansgat cave, northern Transvaal, South Africa. 6cm across where one person may have fallen into this category.

 


MASK 2IMG_2290

 

 

Later many oil painted portraits show the sitter contemplating their mortality (momento mori) for example when the  hand was placed touching a skull or in a less obvious painting by Hans Holbein titled The Ambassadors depicting the skull at the bottom of the composition.

As early as the Neolithic people remembered their relatives by taking death masks or making a sculpture using the skull as an armature and then moulding over it with clay-like substances shaping it into a portrait and then painting it delineating the eyes in particular.

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Ear Alive, 2014

Ear Alive, 2014

 

In this oil painting on gessoed paper I borrowed from the Neolithic idea but I reframe the context so that instead of actual death it is the symbolic death of the artist in the process of creation that is my context with the idea of passing through a ‘portal’ into a different sense of reality. In the images of the rising/setting sun and the ear I refer to how in actuality it is the sense of hearing that lasts longest as other faculties die. Transferred to the context of the painting process the stories in my mind about what I portrayed in an immediate situation slowly fade and gradually ‘die’. These stories in my mind about the visualisation and technique used to make up the image are the last things that I ‘hear’ before I move on. They must ‘die’. In a sense I am ‘blind’ or in ‘darkness’ as the ‘sounds of insight’ about the image go leaving me with a sense of loss.

Rudgley, Robert. 1998. Lost Civilisations of the Stone Age. London : Century


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.

NARCIS

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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Desert “Selfie” at Lake Mungo

In this “selfie” I tried to remember an experience at Lake Mungo and then depict the interaction and sensation between the body, head, landscape and a particular quality of light as the sun was setting. Generally I try to portray how forces of nature and different individuals act at different times.

We were standing on the dunes waiting for the most interesting shot, with cameras poised, as everyone hoped to capture the moment of maximum light and colour as it fell on to the dunes in a way that would produce amazing colours. I waited too long in anticipation. At the most opportune moment there was a flash of a cool citron light and then the sun seemed to set more quickly. Very frustrating. I felt that expressing this experience in paint may elude me because it was so fleeting.

Originally I started with other experiences. My first attempt was to portray the desert night sky so I need to obscure the double image, (originally intended for a re-vision of the image of Narcissus who was portrayed by Caravaggio as an allegory of the self-portrait) in underpaintings 2 and 3. Then I changed to the heat and small intense black shadow at midday experience in underpainting 5. I abandoned that idea as it felt wrong and tried the sandstorm experience in underpainting 9. Another change of mind.

I had been avoiding the flash of yellow/citron light experience as I thought it may become very ‘chocolate box’. Why not give it a go so that in Underpainting 11 I finally started to get in touch with the suppressed feeling but not too quickly. Nothing like a gold icon background to make an art history reference yet another side track.  By underpainting 12 I finally got it and added the sun hoping it wouldn’t look too saccharine.

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The Citron Light at Lake Mungo, 2014

The Citron Light at Lake Mungo, 2014

Purple, pink, red and yellow I’m a bit uncertain but feel as though I achieved  the desired effect even if it is a bit pretty. Perhaps I’m onto a much more colourful stage with this small study?

My Smartphone Fell into the Oil Paint 1, 2014, 48x34 cm, intaglio, oil, pastel and charcoal.


“Selfies” and the Smartphone

Selfies taken with a cellphone are self portraits in the sense that the genre is democratised as everyone can reproduce their own image. However there may be an interesting difference owing to the type of medium. Oil paintings on canvas are like permanent “precious objects”  where the artist depicts on its surface a contrived image that is placed in a staged background.

The image of the person portrayed very likely will ‘out-live’ the actual person therefore ensuring a type of immortality. Mosaics or stone masks are the  most permanent and durable of mediums.

How permanent then is a selfie? This image is shared often  as a candid shot but probably not intended to be permanent.

 

The Cellphone fell into the Oil Paint 1, 2014

My Smartphone fell into the Oil Paint 1, 2014

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The Cellphone Fell into the Oil Paint 2, 2014, 48x34 cm, intaglio, oil, pastel and charcoal on gessoed paper

My Smartphone Fell into the Oil Paint 2, 2014

 

 

On the other hand the selfie may be immortal as long as it can be retrieved from a Timeline.

These two small mixed media images make reference to the portable cellphone selfie and its perceived fleeting nature and cult of individuality. Some commentators describe it as a form of narcissism. Whether or not by cellphone or more traditional media I see types of self representation as evidence of a journey about questioning ideas around mortality and the Self.