ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT
Eleanor Louise Butt has held solo exhibitions in Melbourne, Sydney and the UK since 2014 and has been included in group exhibitions in Melbourne, Geelong, Sydney and Denmark since 2009. She has an Honours degree from the Victorian College of the Arts (2013).
Eleanor was the 2019 recipient of a tenancy at Porthmeor Studios, St Ives, Cornwall, UK - the first female Australian artist in the studios’ 140 year history. She was awarded the George Hicks Award (2012) and has been a finalist in the Macquarie Group Emerging Artist Prize (2016) and the M Collection Art Award (2016).
Since 2012 Eleanor has been a member of the c3 Contemporary Art Space Curatorial Committee. Her work has been profiled in Thalia Magazine (US), Art Collector Magazine, Artist Profile, ABC Radio National as well as online and print design publications.
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PORTHMEOR STUDIO 5 PAINTINGS
19 AUGUST TO 6 SEPTEMBER 2020
EXHIBITION REVIEW BY TAI SNAITH FOR 'ART ATTACK' ON 3RRR 'SMART ARTS' PRESENTED BY RICHARD WATTS, 3 SEPTEMBER 2020:
'ARTIST PROFILE' ISSUE 52, PROCESS p 124-126
The paintings in this exhibition began life in Porthmeor Studios, where the Atlantic meets the Napoleonic-era sea wall that has – so far – stopped the waves reclaiming the famous little port of St Ives. Or before then, really – before Eleanor Louise Butt made her 11,000-mile journey from Melbourne to Cornwall, when Porthmeor was still a destination of the mind, a compass-point. Because, wherever artists travel, they bring with them – as natives of the inner landscape – at least as much imaginative territory as they discover. That’s no reason never to venture abroad, however. Ben Nicholson, one of Porthmeor Studio 5’s best-known previous occupants (the other was Patrick Heron, to whom he handed it on), believed that an artist will always find the influences they need. Porthmeor – the place, the space, the history – was somewhere that Butt sensed would have meaning for her work. I think she was right.
There’s the huge studio itself, clad floor-to-ceiling in white planks and panels like the hold of a modernist ark, with its vast cinematic skylight. Underneath are cellars where fishermen clatter and swear as they did when the sea wall was built. But the studio space has never been used by anyone but artists. Over the past few years, since the building was saved at renovated, it has become a palimpsest of practice. By the door hangs a tiny sculpture fashioned from a twist of citron rind. A note pencilled by Nicholson on the wall, maybe seventy years ago, has been carefully not painted over. On one level, it must be daunting, setting up in a place where many artists have worked before you. But perhaps, too, the experience is like that of a pianist entering a rehearsal room. Why else would you be here?
And there’s the environment, of which the sky alone is present to the artist in Studio 5, but which draws the eye – the whole attention – as soon as you step outside. Porthmeor is the name of a beach (porth meaning cove and meor big in the old Cornish language), an arc of bright sand between two greenstone headlands. Westwards, the cliff path threads through gorse and boulders, defunct tin mines and moorland streams towards Land’s End.
Some of the paintings in this show I saw in their earliest stages in Porthmeor Studios seven or eight months ago. Butt spoke of her admiration for Heron and his abstract language of colour, and of Bonnard (whom Heron had championed in the unreceptive greyness of postwar Britain). And this made sense, especially of the yellows flowering here and there around the studio walls. One time – a twilit December day when groundswell, wind and rain were on full blast – we happened to meet on the coast path, not far from Clodgy Point (another earthy Cornish place-name), which has become the title of a painting.
This winter landscape, its colours and atmosphere, resonate through Butt’s new body of work – the shadowy bronze of last year’s bracken, the drenched greens, browns and greys of the cliffscape, yet underneath, beyond, the push and pulse of the sea-light. I think of these sensations as very specific to the place. Maybe they could be imagined. But on the evidence of these paintings, I’d say they were worth the travelling and the bringing home.
In its modernist incarnation, abstraction (exemplified by abstract expressionism) was framed as a declaration of the artist’s authentic self, articulated by the application of unbridled and rapid gestures upon the canvas. Now that the project of modernism has all but been buried, the question remains – what is at stake in abstraction? Eleanor Louise Butt’s contemporary take on the style refutes the outdated logic that painting should operate as a faithful representation the artist’s psyche. Yet, at the same time, Butt’s work is also a personal account of her individual experience. If these paintings act as a record of her 2019 tenancy at Porthmeor Studios in St Ives, then they are written in a broader language of anti-modernist abstraction that encompasses less of a direct transference from artist to canvas and more of a strategic process of selective exposure.
It should be emphasised that Butt’s choice of abstraction is not a tool for alienating viewers. Instead, the paintings modestly acknowledge the impossibility of absolute representation - representation that even more illustrative mediums, such as photography or sculpture, still fail to capture. Indeed, this is in line with what affect theorists have continued to remind us in recent years, that absolute representation is an essentially impossible task. As such, viewers are presented with mnemonic approximations of Butt’s experience of St Ives and greater West Penwith. This includes the reverberations created in the artist’s body by the powerful waves of the Atlantic ocean thrashing into St Ives’s high granite cliffs (Untitled (brown, blue and orange sketch), 2019), which Butt translates through the use of short, linear brush strokes in combination with a palette dominated by brown and orange. As such, the landscape steps in as a surrogate for Butt’s memory, and Butt’s works operate as a double abstraction of the singular and phenomenological to the collective and visual.
Working contra modernist abstraction’s desire to lay everything bare, Butt will often finish her works with blocks of colour that shroud certain portions of the painting. In Untitled (green, orange, white), 2019, for example, the artist has overlayed an earthy base composition with a series of uneven white blocks that obstruct our vision of the work’s underlayer. Interestingly, this white layer acts as a framing mechanism, exaggerating that which is not covered. Butt treats the artwork as a journal –but one in which only select memories are shared with her viewing public. This formal technique might be understood as a reaction to the oft repeated argument that to make a memory public is to immediately open it up to the “invasions of public spectacles of sentiment and clichés”, the result of which is a dulling of the singular, subjective moment.1 The blocking seen in Butt’s paintings visually fragment her subjectivity to protect it from complete objectivisation from the viewers’ gaze.
Butt’s very specific technique, in which she loads her brush with paint and drags it across the surface of the canvas, charges her paintings with tension - a kind of push and pull between transparency and opacity. This action simultaneously applies new paint to the work while also leaving certain sections empty, thereby allowing what is beneath to show through. As much as Butt refuses to lay everything out in the open, her technique is one that does not erase, rather, it layers. The act of erasure suggests the removal of imagery, while Butt’s layering is really a technique for muddying what is there. The image is still there, only it has been largely altered by the addition of blocks and Butt’s repeated dragging of pigment across previous layers. In many cases, the blocks are varyingly transparent, meaning that strata beneath pierce through to the surface. This is demonstrated most clearly in Composition in brown, 2019. This painting’s yellow underlayer is transformed by the brown block (a nod to the bracken along the Cornish moors) that has been applied over the top. Yet the yellow is not erased. Instead, it is assimilated into the blocking, which results in a glowing effect that tips over into the visceral; one imagines that the underlayer has been compressed by the brown block and is forcing its way through to the surface.
Butt’s layering technique creates myriad mazes, which begin at the canvas’s base and end at the painting’s surface. The entanglement present in a single work is then mirrored on a macro-level between paintings. Butt creates several paintings at once and, as such, there are always a number of formal slippages — colour, line, texture — amongst her pieces. These slippages resemble a tangle of strands that eventually unravel to reveal a balance between works. Of course, any formal teasing out reflects the process of conceptual resolution in Butt’s practice, where the tension between subjective and objective representation eventually finds a balance. In the final analysis, the complexity of Butt’s painting lays in the work’s ability to operate contra a modernist definition of abstraction as total transference of the artist’s inner-being, while also creating a visual language that allows Butt’s audience to gain a broader impression of the artist’s situated experience.
NEW WORKS, MELBOURNE 2020
In these new paintings, strong and solid forms were reinterpreted from preceding paintings and drawings.
I have been keeping a journal of sketches that provides fresh entry points to begin new paintings - these pencil sketches are the source of the pared-back palette of these works.
A large brush was loaded with paint and dragged across the surface, allowing chance and material to charge the lines with tension. The energetic line-work is suggestive of rough sculptural forms with deeply gouged contours. Bulging impasto surfaces developed, on which the emergent forms oscillate in dialogue with one another.
ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT EXHIBITION REVIEW BY TAI SNAITH FOR 3RRR ‘SMART ARTS’, 3 SEPTEMBER 2020
Link to exhibition review below: https://www.rrr.org.au/shared/broadcast-episode/13040/2220000/2972000
ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT ON ‘THE DESIGN FILES’ IN STUDIO VISIT BY SASHA GATTERMAYR
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ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT PROFILED ON A-OK
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ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT IN ‘THALIA’ MAGAZINE
Working in loose, gestural abstraction, my painting practice is process driven. Through colour, texture, lines and forms, I combine surfaces and gestural energy, adopting the potentialities of paint to create surfaces where action, experience, perception and memory are interwoven and folded back into one another. The surface of each painting becomes a charged space through…