Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


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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.


Hildegard of Bingen : a Self Portrait

Self portrait by Hildegard of Bingen, detail, Scrivias f., 1r, 1142 - 1152

‘Self portrait’ by Hildegard of Bingen, detail, Scrivias f., 1r, 1142 – 1152

Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179) an influential and creative Benedictine abbess from the Rhineland lived at the time of the building of Chartres Cathedral, the evolution of the University of Paris and in the lifetimes of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Thomas a Becket, Fredrick Barbarossa and Bernard of Clairvaux has been an influence on my artwork –  the self portrait and portrait. Hildergard has been described as a poet, artist, musician, scientist, administrator and visionary. In her life time she challenged civic and religious leaders through her writing.

This self portrait could also be seen as part democratisation of an artform , the selfie of its era.

While Hildegard may not have painted this self portrait illumination herself its contents and concept were hers and she would have directed its execution. It shows flames of inspiration arising around her head as she writes watched by her secretary and monk, Volmar. A private instant of conversion “in the process of” self expression freeing her from writer’s block, doubt, subservience and illness due to cultural constrictions. Society thought that women like Hildegard exceptional but at the same time the profession they pursued was deemed masculine.

Flame imagery was associated with Pentecost (Holy Spirit) so in this way Hildegard privatised an emblem that had been reserved for imagery of the apostles. Women’s social functions were subordinated to, or defined by their sexual capacities as someones wife, mother or daughter. (Portraits let alone self portraits were generally reserved for rulers, aristocracy and church dignitaries in a feudal society where they were depicted on coinage, sculpture or etched in stone on cathedral architecture.)

Christian representations of women in the Middle Ages were focused on the opposition of Eve and Mary, seducer and saint. Images of creative women (below) from Antiquity however were acceptable as examples of exceptional persons but distinct from the experiences of everyday women.

Hildergard’s images of self expression and the depiction of the process and technique of producing the image seemed unusual in an era when “doing your own thing” was centuries away.

Self portrait "Thamar" from Boccaccio's De Claris Mulierbus  1355 - 59.

Self portrait “Thamar” from Boccaccio’s De Claris Mulierbus 1355 – 59.

Anonymous, Thamyris Painting, early 15th century manuscript.

Anonymous, Thamyris Painting, early 15th century manuscript.

These images showing women as persons aware of their self identity at that time were truly revolutionary and inspiring.

References

Fox, Matthew, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen. Santa Fe, Bear & Company, 1981

Parker, Rozsika & Pollock, Griselda, Old Mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology. New York, Harper Collins, 1981

Chadwick, Whitney, Women, Art and Society. London, Thames & Hudson, 1990

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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Posters, Portraits, Prayers and Comic Strips

Influences from the Poster Day Bill

I always cited the sources of my imagery or iconography  derived from art history books, museums or archaeology to have derived from so-called high art both old and new masters.   But re thinking was in order as some unconscious images came to the fore. Yesterday on eBay I scrolled through posters on display. They were arranged in chronological order ranging from recently dated reaching back to the 1950s. I found the change of style over time quite interesting as both ends of this spectrum showed how technology changed designs and their content.

Today it is possible to create tonally complex figurative imagery where a protagonist in a particular scene selected from the movie and situated in a complex perspective realist or hyper realist styled background constituted the poster format design. However many of these literal images selected as part of a narrative, often depicted using tenebrism, a darkened Caravaggio style  enhancing the feeling of action, were  often hard to read in an eye-grabbing  instant compared to the designs of the 1950s.  The shiny glossy surface was also a point of contrast placed next to the opaque day bills of the 50s.

Gina Lollobrigida starring in " Anna of Brooklyn ", 1958, Vintage Daybill movie poster.

Gina Lollobrigida starring in ” Anna of Brooklyn “, 1958, Vintage Daybill movie poster.

Recent movie poster

Recent movie poster

Even though the latest imagery is detailed (regardless of content which is another story), realistic, atmospheric, tonal ( the figures have weight and volume ) and are placed in a fairly realistic perspective space, the visual impact came from first posters for me. Disregarding the subject matter, the formalist values, the flattened figure with hard edges and bright colour caught my attention immediately.

The text showed  polished almost glowing 3-D lettering arching along the bottom line in contrast to the text in the early poster that is simple, flat probably done by hand or type set ( Letraset a few years away ? ) with no attempt at atmospheric perspective. However by placing secondary figures and other aspects of the narrative almost in miniature compared to the figure of the protagonist the sense of distance  fell into place.

One type of dramatic action was about an adventure and the other was about a romance rendered with flat contrasting colour.

I wondered why these old style posters apart from the nostalgia they evoked of a by-gone era  played on my mind. In that era without colour television my main sources of imagery from popular culture  were these posters, the movies, comics and comic strips in newspapers, Time and Life magazines and The Saturday Evening Post (Norman Rockwell). I became aware  a strong influence some of these posters had on the unconscious formatting of my imagery in a formalist sense.

For example the image from a mural titled Women  of the Interior while being about a protagonist who explored the Australian Outback had a composition imprint related to the first image though the colour related to the desert.

Elaine d'Esterre. Detail from a mural titled Women of the Interior, 1992, 12 feet by 30 feet. acrylic on plaster board

Elaine d’Esterre. Detail from a mural titled Women of the Interior, 1992, 12 feet by 30 feet. acrylic on plaster board

This image was also similar in that figures placed in the foreground had smaller images placed around the main figure positioned in a way to heighten the sense of drama. In the far distance, through the keyhole the artist engaged in the act  of painting  took second place to the foreground fantasy figures.

Elaine d'Esterre. The Original Sudarium, 1994 - 1995, diptych, 132x180 cm, oil on canvas, from my PhD exegesis titled Feminist Poetics: Symbolism in an Emblematic Journey about Self and Vision

Elaine d’Esterre. The Original Sudarium, 1994 – 1995, diptych, 132×180 cm, oil on canvas, from my PhD exegesis titled Feminist Poetics: Symbolism in an Emblematic Journey about Self and Vision

Influences from the classroom portrait

Another unexpected source of imagery derived from old master prints was The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals and  Vincent Van Gogh self portraits that appeared to  stare down from above a classroom mantle piece.

Face and Horn, 1994, 76x66 cm, oil on canvas, from Feminist Poetics

Face and Horn, 1994, 76×66 cm, oil on canvas, from Feminist Poetics

Influences from the school chapel

As well as the format of the 3/4 view classroom portrait the prints in the school chapel included The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci .  The  frontal portrayal of Christ was also a well used iconic image.

Elaine d'Esterre. Through the Window 2, 2000, 50x75 cm gouache, from the series titled Eye and Site 1

Elaine d’Esterre. Through the Window 2, 2000, 50×75 cm gouache, from the series titled Eye and Site 1

Placed beside the altar in which hung the da Vinci The Last Supper print was a framed print of The Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

The Annunciation in Florence, 1440 - 60, Fra Angelico. Florence, Museo di  S. Marco. Fresco. ( Source: Baxandall, Michael, 1972 )

The Annunciation in Florence, 1440 – 60, Fra Angelico. Florence, Museo di S. Marco. Fresco. ( Source: Baxandall, Michael, 1972 )

d'Esterre. Subjectivity 2, 2004, 92x108 cm, oil on board, from Eye and Site 1

d’Esterre. Subjectivity 2, 2004, 92×108 cm, oil on board, from Eye and Site 1

This painting was about the relationship between artist and model. The model’s assertive behaviour reversed the usual procedure where the artist had control of the gaze.

Influences from the comic strip

My compositions some times constructed in triptych or diptych format hark back to an era of comics and comic strips. The topic may be complex and have embedded in the imagery reference to history, myth or allegory. By dividing the composition into segments the artist can suggest  many dimensions and layered meaning to the viewer where each segment became part of the whole composition.

E. d'Esterre. About Durer's Witch, 1995 - 1997, triptych, 90x252 cm, oil on canvas, from exegesis titled Feminist Poetics

E. d’Esterre. About Durer’s Witch, 1995 – 1997, triptych, 90×252 cm, oil on canvas, from exegesis titled Feminist Poetics

On the other hand an artist may want to portray  several versions  of a topic and paint a series of related images but each image can exist on its own.

Momento mori 1, 2006, 50x770 cm, oil on gessoed paper, part of a series titled Eye and Site 2

Momento mori 1, 2006, 50×770 cm, oil on gessoed paper, part of a series titled Eye and Site 2

Momento Mori 2, 2006, 52x70 cm, oil on gessoed paper, from Eye and Site 2

Momento Mori 2, 2006, 52×70 cm, oil on gessoed paper, from Eye and Site 2

Momento Mori 3, 2006, 52x70 cm, oil on gessoed paper, from Eye and Site 2

Momento Mori 3, 2006, 52×70 cm, oil on gessoed paper, from Eye and Site 2

Although the comic strip derived  images read horizontally I also enjoy suggesting to the viewer a sense of depth in parts of the composition  that could be read as though looking through a window. I enjoy fusing together different ways of looking.