Elaine d'Esterre

Feminist Visual Artist – Paintings, Mixed Media and Etchings

The Artist, 2014, 20x25 cm, mixed media


The Artist

Background

This quick portrait sketch was unplanned but came about because of two separate incidents.

I used a very small smooth surfaced gesso panel suitable for a brush stroke demonstration in a painting workshop organised by several art students earlier this year. It was one of several different sized panels that were suitable for experimenting with glazes combined with different impasto textures such as double and triple loaded brush or palette knife application into a wet glaze rather than onto a dry surface. A wet in wet instead of the usual method of wet on dry created impasto strokes where some edges blurred and bled into the under painted glaze.

My demonstrations on the larger panels were clearer than on this small almost constricting sized panel (as I usually work on a large surface except for etching). The few brushstrokes depicting aspects of landscape features were hastily wiped off (and cast aside under other work in my studio) after the demo. because I couldn’t see an image developing in the paint.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I wondered if there was any hope for some remaining etchings that were grubby around the edges and couldn’t be turned into mixed media with gouache, pastel or charcoal. Time for some ripping up and throwing shreds around. One shredded etching landed on the gesso panel from the demo. The start of something?

The second situation involved one of the students who recently staged an exhibition and it was a sell out. I was overjoyed and an image came up and coalesced around the piece of etching and the gesso panel containing the torn etching. It happened quickly so that my process of recording stages didn’t happen.

The Artist, 2014, 20x25 cm, mixed media

The Artist, 2014, mixed media 20×25 cm

The images about two mental aspects about this artist are read from right to left. On the right hand side is a profile image that is meant to express the uncertainty of pre-exhibition hesitation when a person hopes that their work is met with an appreciative audience. Both images are placed on an easel. On the left the artist’s transformed image, depicted in a way where the image has become the paint and is not quite formed, is placed mostly within a loosely painted picture frame. The partly enclosing frame also dissolves in overpainting. A mental transition and sense of energy and excitement was conveyed by a red background.


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

Segmented Glance 2, 1/1, 2010, intaglio, drypoint, chine-colle and collage


Demeter and Persephone Re-visioned in Double Portrait form

Artists, myself included often refer to myth, history, archaeology or religion when depicting imagery as a way to include several layers of meaning with everyday subject matter. Messages can be conveyed through obvious symbols or by disguised symbolism for example the Demeter and Persephone myth can provide an allegory for narratives and images depicting mothers and daughters.

The well-known story about a mother (Demeter) and daughter (Persephone) relationship described as a tragic and cruel rape, abduction and kidnapping of a child from her mother is often referred to as an allegory for spring in the patriarchal culture of Ancient Greece.

 I referred to aspects of the Demeter and Persephone myth but re-visioned it by tracing some of the symbols back to their original location in earlier rituals as a way to re-vision the disempowerment of women in this rape and kidnap cautionary tale. Often symbols remain but the story told about them changes. Their Minoan-like origin can be seen in an excavation by S. and N. Marinatos at Akrotiri in Thera. So I retained several aspects not in their narrative form but in a type of disguised symbolism.  In that way I could depict through a double portrait my understanding  and formation of a daughter’s identity by referring to this allegory about renewal and transition.

Briefly I referred to frescos that depicted a narrative ritual where women protagonists descend into an adyton (holy of holies) depicted within the architecture of the Thera excavation.  The frescos make reference to the underworld, vegetation, growth and the cycle of nature as does the rape of Persephone and abduction to the underworld by her uncle Hades. 

The sketches and Theran frescos below illustrate part of the ritual activity at Akrotiri (destroyed in 1500 B.C.) in Thera (Santorini).

The shaved head of a young girl painted on this fresco suggests that she may be engaging in an initiation ritual.

Tentative reconstruction of the entire room 3 showing the pictorial programme on both floor levels.

Tentative reconstruction of the entire room 3 showing the pictorial programme on both floor levels including the steps descending into the adyton.

The sketch depicts a girl with a bleeding foot and a crocus. All heads turned to the blood on the altar.

I extrapolated imagery from elements of this symbolism as a way to create abstracted backgrounds that refer to blood and the dark atmosphere of an underworld ritual where in my imagination often unconscious and inarticulate emotions rise between a mother and daughter. This is a privatised world not a public and sacred ritual however I avoid direct reference to the rape and violence of Greek myth.

I also used this narrative of underground ritual as an allegory about vision, insight and inspiration.

Reference

Marinatos, Nanno,  Art and Religion in Thera: Reconstructing a Bronze Age Society. Athens, D. & I. Mathioulakis, 1984