Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings


Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting

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A re-hash of an image that began as an intaglio print and was put aside for a while before I tackled it again. Technically I wanted to combine oil paint with intaglio print. The image is part of a series about the theme of self-portrait as allegory of painting that seems to have originated in the seventeenth century. In this composition I tried to show how the artist’s mind may discern how light and dark reveal and obscure imagery.

Remaining paintings in this series:

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Self-Portrait as Allegory of Painting (revisited)

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Behind the Mask, 2014

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Behind the Mask, 2014-16, oil on gesso and intaglio, 36×24 cm

Untitled

Lost Mirror Image, 2014, mixed media 35×25 cm

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Lost Mirror Image, 2014-16, mixed media, 35×25 cm

I returned to a small group of self-portraits that were out of sight for two years. The self-portrait image began as an intaglio print which I retained in these compositions. I gessoed the printmaking paper and then applied oil paint as a medium in which to complete the imagery that was about the self-portrait function as an allegory of the painting process. hence images of lights, mirrors, spectacles and imagery that alluded to the presence of absence of light.

I try to create the process of looking because as we turn away from the mirror image  (reverse) the artist ‘carries’ its memory to the brain which then has to be rearranged into something before hand and brush or which ever implement is used, moves. We don’t see ourselves as others see us.

 


Lake Mungo Experience

In this continuation of the Mungo Experience I tried to merge the idea of history represented by the ear and converge it in the artist’s mind with the atmosphere of this place represented by the sun.

 

 

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Previous stages of Watching by a Mungo Dune, 2016

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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”.


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.


“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.