Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


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Selfies about Allegory and Apotheosis

Background

Allegory played a central part in traditional oil painting as it allowed artists to create imagery that was about reflecting their new upwardly mobile status from artisan to professional, after the ending of Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. For example in his Self- Portrait 1500, Durer made an allusion to an almost divine status and solemnly modelled himself on the Vera Icon or true image.

 

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On the other hand Artemisia Gentileschi partly referred to Ripa’s iconography of the personification of the Allegory of painting ( based on the Ancient Greek goddess Athena ) and modelled herself on a revision of this particular representation. Her version showed a figure at work minus the gag that was an accompanying emblem of the allegory of painting figure. It alluded to painting as the silent art in comparison to poetry. The depiction of the head and highlighted brow and eyes referred to the state of vision and the idea of the rational, whereas the hands often referred to the senses and the irrational, as though the mind and body were split in two. Artemisia Gentileschi in this painting titled Self-Portrait as the Allegory of Painting, 1630 appears to show how both mind and body interact.

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 Explanation

I have been influenced by her revisionist approach to establishment Baroque iconography because although it occurred centuries ago it still cast a long shadow into the 20th and 21st centuries in the ways that women are still  represented and portrayed. I think I will call this series of small oil and mixed media works on paper  The Selfie as an Allegory of Vision : Homage to Artemisia Gentileschi.

I tried to depict aspects of different thought processes about identity, painting and place. For example the “Light is in the Blood” part of four titles refer to the complexity and interactions between sight, memory and action. For me its as though a mental image at the front of my mind flows somehow into my body in different stages that each require a double back into mental reflection, after and from which the flow of blood transports a random and often messy mental image into my hand and fingers.

When I refer to places like “Karijini” and “Lake Mungo”apart from documentation, my depictions are about how I feel on a visceral level, as both part of the landscape and at the same time being mentally dwarfed by the appreciation of my place in time, walking on a living ancient planet. It is as though the landscape watches.

The objects  “mirror” and “window” refer to different ways of looking. We only see a mirror image of ourselves and not as others see us. Which memory of that image or selected aspect of it ends up on the canvas and during the memory transition what else enters this mental space;  how much information from other sources can can I let in?  The use of perspective in painting is sometimes referred to as if we are looking through a window but we are also apart of what it is that we look at.

In the two paintings about the mobile phone I used its shape to resemble an ancient Minoan/Ariadnian column so that I combined references to ancient and modern imagery,  reaching back and then reaching forward simultaneously as a way to avoid constructing stereotypical female imagery.

The topic of self-portraiture is centuries old and representations often in a traditional style. I like to combine bits of ‘realism or naturalism’ with abstracted elements and gestural paint application as I have absorbed aspects of some 20th century “isms” and combine linear drawn mark making with areas of impasto, thin and thick paint layering and visual elements taken from several periods of art history. So much to choose from.

 

References

Garrard, Mary. 1989. Artemisia Gentileschi: the Image of the Female Hero in Italian Baroque Art. Princeton : New Jersey

Moxey, Keith. 1994. “Hieronymus Bosch and the “World Upside Down”. In Norman Bryson, Michael Ann Holly and Keith Moxey, eds., Visual Culture : Images and Interpretation, 104 – 140. New England : Hanover and London

Carol P. Christ is my source for the term “Ariadnian”.


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.

 


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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


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?


Artwork underpainting continues

This small mixed media is “finished ” and when it dries very minor tonal gradation may be require in the background.

The underpaintings following need radical alteration notably ‘underpainting 8’ which is about halfway to getting there. The next image also needs more focus and the last one still requires more structure in the composition.

I was sure the “finished” image was going to give me problems but it was the last image thought to be a breeze earlier that now looks tricky.


Artwork and Under Painting

My process of image making is often accidental or an organised accident. Images often emerge from failed etchings or gouache where I hit a brick wall, put them in the too hard basket and walk away. When I return to them I see them differently. The examples here are failed etchings left for 18 months.

 

The solution was to create a mixed media image, keep part of the original image from the print zinc plate, change the subject matter and meaning from the mother Demeter self-portrait from Natalie with the Gaze and the Glance to that of artist engaged in the process of painting, challenging some of the conventions as an allegory for vision and insight.

The last three images are almost complete whereas the first ones are quite raw and  unfocused. Although untitled they refer back to earlier paintings in series titled Eye and Site 1,2 and 3. In the mode of Hildegard of Bingen who saw the mirror not as a source of vanity but of spiritual self-examination, I find the examination of the conventions of oil painting an endless source of symbolism that is about an inquiry in to how images of women are constructed and evaluated.