Eleanor Butt

What led you to choose painting as a medium? (Or did painting choose you?)

Painting is the medium that allows me to speak my own language.

When I was very young, my mum was at university and doing an art subject, I remember clearly being interested in the research, images, and stories behind the works she was studying. I have always loved looking at paintings, and started painting with oils when I was a teenager. At art school I experimented across various modes of practice and actually left painting for a while, only to re-discover it in my honours year at VCA and from then on, it’s been my sole focus.

I love the process of painting, the problems it presents and coming up with (or at least attempting to) solutions for them.  

Could you identify painters or other artists or writers who have influenced your painting practice? 

Pierre Bonnard, Amy Sillman, Francis Bacon (I enjoy reading David Sylvester’s interviews), Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Long, Mark Rothko (early and later works), Joan Mitchell, Hilma af Klint, Joseph Albers, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, Lee Krasner, Tony Tuckson, Agnes Martin, Fernand Leger, Fred Williams, Jean Miro, Mary Martin, Pablo Picasso, Roni Horn, Patrick Heron, Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp, Robert Ryman and Betty Parsons to name a few. I also recommend the Sternberg Press book ‘Painting Beyond Itself | The Medium in a Post-medium Condition’, and am currently reading a biography of Lee Krasner by Gail Levin which is pretty great – so far.

More locally, my friends within the art community are such a great source of support, conversation, inspiration and motivation – these relationships are really important to me.      

You have a very distinctive approach to your paintings that express the individual brushstroke – can you comment on the evolution of this approach?

I’m really into looking at paintings up-close and getting lost in the brushstrokes, I think there is something in this that gets expanded with my own work.

Have you ever looked at a Bacon up close and seen the way the paint holds on tight to that surface? It’s so physical.

On my often-minimalistic approach, my philosophy is that each painting doesn’t need to convey all of my ideas on a single plane, and that I can let the paintings breathe.

Abstraction from a sketch after a visit to the Tate. From Porthmeor Studio 5 UK Paintings. 47x42, oil on cotton, 2019 resized

Abstraction from a sketch after a visit to the Tate. From Porthmeor Studio 5 UK Paintings. 47×42, oil on cotton, 2019 resized

You recently undertook a residency in St Ives – what were the key experiences that came out of this?

Having two months to focus solely on my practice in the large Studio 5 at Porthmeor Studios allowed me to work through ideas that had been simmering in the back of my mind, as well as those which developed while there.

Some afternoons after painting all day I would crave social engagement, but not knowing many people I would just keep working long after I would usually have packed it in for the day. These moments were where I had most of my breakthroughs.

 I learned that pushing through barriers is where it’s at.

Going on long walks alone on moors and cliffs alone made me braver as well, which I suppose is also a lesson in pushing through comfort zones. I began drawing in a journal daily which has become a source for new paintings, and a new way of working for me, even if it’s just a starting point for new works.

 Did you discover any differences between the Australian and the St Ives art scenes?

St Ives is a tiny fishing village turned artist-town / holiday destination, so there are a lot of differences geographically and historically, but there are a lot of  similarities as well, in that there is a strong sense of community amongst artists, and that art is really valued there, as it is in Melbourne where I live.

 You are also a DJ – what are your favourite musicians and music? How have these influenced your visual work?

I am! The music I listen to in my studio is pretty different to what I play at my gigs, they tap into different kinds of energy – at home I can be purely selfish with what I put on.

My tastes are relatively broad, I listen to psych, punk, post-punk, jazz, Krautrock, classical, library, folk, house, techno, hip-hop, soul, rock, club, electronic, etc.

I don’t really know how much it has influenced my visual work, but I am particular about what I’m listening to when I’m painting. In the development stage, purely instrumental music is better because the lyrics don’t interrupt my thoughts, and later when things are really flowing the lyrics are allowed to make a come-back.

Can you recommend 5 artists to listen to when working in isolation?

Right now, I’m going for comfort-music, here are some favourites: Teisco – Tuscan Castle and Country Seat Alice Coltrane – Journey in Satchidananda Fred Neil – Fred Neil Art Blakey and the Messengers – The Witch Doctor  Walter “Whiz” Whisenhunt Orchestra ft Gloria Ann Taylor

What are your 5 tips for continuing to work on your practice in isolation?

I’m still working this out too, at this early stage I’ve been gentle on myself and placed no expectation on output.

Having begun to come to terms with what is happening in the world due to Covid-19,  I think now I will start by setting small goals such as reading a chapter of an art book a day, doing some sketching, maybe some small watercolours – just things that feed my practice.

Also most importantly, talking to friends in the art community.  I’ve started a new Instagram account @s_t_u_d_i_o_s__ which focuses on other artist’s studios, and I’m enjoying keeping connected in this way while we are not able to visit each other. Routine works for me. I recommend adapting your practice to fit into what you are capable of doing from home, unless your studio is at home in which case, if you feel up to it, then go in there.

ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT Porthmeor Studio 5 Oct-Nov 2019 (photo by Alban Roinard)

ELEANOR LOUISE BUTT Porthmeor Studio 5 Oct-Nov 2019 (photo by Alban Roinard)

 I have a forthcoming solo exhibition with Nicholas Thompson Gallery from August 19 – September 6 2020.

(Credit for cover image: Eleanor Butt, Composition in Orange and Brown (after Léger). Oil on Linen, 46 x 41cm, 2019.)