Imagining myself cocooned beside the hearth in Eleanor Louise Butt’s Cornwall studio is a tonic to the wild and woolly world right now. Yes, that’s Cornwall in England and no, it’s not her permanent art-making habitat, but gosh is it beautiful. In a former life, this loft space was used to make ship sails, and was then transformed into an artist’s studio. Melbourne-based Eleanor spent two months here on residency at the end of last year, in what she describes as one of the most vital artistic experiences of her life.
‘Having this time solely dedicated to my practice was an incredible opportunity to focus and to uncover new concepts and ways of working,’ she explains. Hanging on the walls at Porthmeor Studios, her loose, gestural paintings come to life in the light-flooded space. It’s a world away from her regular studio space in The Dandenongs just outside of Melbourne, where she looks out over a rainforest gully and a ridge of mountain ash and wattle. But time away from home has given Eleanor the space for experimentation, and offered a new global context for her practice.
Taking coarse linen, raw canvas and hessian as her primary surfaces, Eleanor begins ‘an intuitive process of applying and removing paint, pouring, rubbing and layering’. She describes the way paintings reveal themselves as a metamorphosis ‘where each painting occurs within a wider process of material exploration’. Her mark-making and colour palettes are only part of the art, the textures and material surfaces Eleanor uses equally inform the outcome.
Eleanor describes her paintings as ‘visual dialogues’, a place where action, experience, perception and memory fold back into each other. Her works are like a diary, posing questions and receiving answers back and forth in constant conversation. You can see the echoes of her inspirations – Joan Miró, Pierre Bonnard, Francis Bacon and Betty Parsons – splashed across her pieces in marigold yellows, amorphous shapes and crowded, suggestive brushstrokes.
The raw and intimate energy of these paintings comes from experimentation, rather than starting out with a clear plan. ‘That moment when a painting reveals itself and all the marks fall into place feels magical to me, it’s an addictive feeling’ Eleanor explains. ‘Sometimes paintings happen quickly, and others take days of pushing and pulling, and just when I think a painting is a lost cause, it emerges.’