Surface Grip

Catalogue Essay by Jeremy Eaton.

I’m in Eleanor’s studio looking out the window onto a wattle tree. It’s in bloom, yellow and such. The whole area is getting ready to bloom, and then the yellow will spread through the valleys and up the steeping ravines steadily taking over, temporary pale sparks alighting and receding in an annual cycle. Eleanor points me towards a book on Pierre Bonnard resting on a chair. The cover depicts a painting of the view from his studio window. Bonnard’s view also looks onto a wattle (in France it is known as mimosa) flowering amongst the greens. It is a beautiful coincidence that a painter Eleanor loves so much looked out over a similar scene whilst painting.

Bonnard’s work recurs as a source and reference throughout Eleanor’s practice. Books imaging his work are strewn across furniture and a postcard of his painting L’Été (1917) is pinned next to several canvasses.[1]  Eleanor picks up a book and points me in the direction of a monochromatic, lavender area of paint on the lower part of a wall in one of his paintings depicting a woman bathing. It seems ancillary, peripheral; yet to Eleanor this is the moment when the painting comes alive. A small secret whispered to future painters, hidden in the composition – one of many notes left by masters here and there to be gleaned by subsequent generations. Whether it be a discrete area of colour in the corner of a Bonnard, the angled edge of a shape by Léger or the surface grip of a line by Bacon – these moments elicit an emotional and physical response in Eleanor, like a cue that implies a gesture to be undertaken on her surfaces. And Eleanor, along with myself, wonder as to whether or not the lingering figuration of modernism is a pretext for these moments of immediate and responsive painterly delight.

Despite this talk of the yellow of wattle and the discrete moment of historical paintings, and Eleanor’s attunement to these occurrences, the relationship is not causal. Eleanor is not a landscape painter, nor is she making work about Modernism. Yet a range of these glimpsed and fragmented moments collect and scatter across and within her paintings, layered and subtle, peaking through the coloured pentimento. The mottled brown paint consists of layers of phenomena that strike an emotional chord, surfaces containing evanescent marks made and concealed in the progressive folding in of glimpsed moments. And whilst the exhibition is titled Surface Grip, the paint seems to only hold onto the surface for a short moment before being re-worked, added to and painted over. The paint not so much gripping the canvas but the painterly surfaces gripping the viewer, its textures, colours and barely discernible lines creating an ideated touch, feeling the eyes of the skin.

The blur, the transience, the re-working, the folding, surfaces disappearing and re-appearing – this is a space of some kind of writing. But where line is the calligraphic contour of the drawn, Eleanor’s writing employs the language of surface, colour and area. Feathered moments sidestepping notation and getting straight to the music, free and loose. In place of sound it is the visuality that resonates. From the light and ethereal, to the muddy and thick, the paintings talk of a range of accumulated moments denoted yet not fully disclosed and we feel through the paint and align them with our own experience. And if this writing, this visual music without notation, were to be interpreted, it would be read as a love letter to painting, to Eleanor’s surrounds, to time marked on each surface. A diary of something to be told in each gesture, contour and coloured stroke. Layering, gripping and dissipating like the soft spark of the wattle blooming before the beginning of spring.

-  Jeremy Eaton

[1] Pierre Bonnard’s L’Été formed the basis of After L’Été an exhibition at BUS Projects in March, 2019.

Jeremy Eaton is an artist and writer working in Narrm/Melbourne.