By Rosalind Cleaver
There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another
– Edouard Monet
Elsa Duault’s work is premised on paint and colour and the unchartered passage across stretched canvas surfaces. Duault’s fluid paintings are at once complex and evocative – and sometimes playful. Her works serve to delight and intrigue, intimating the art of marbling and leather onlay work and suggesting extraordinary views of the heavens and earth. Duault’s works vary in size, colour combinations and technique, displaying a proficient mastery of her artistic genre.
Instantaneous Music VII (2018) comprises hues of green, yellow, red and ochre that collide and blend with shades of pink and ochre and are interspersed with empty black threads and traces of neutral white. Swathes of colours intermingle, disappear and later re-emerge, almost like satellite images of earth surfaces and coastal areas developed from the Landsat programme. Towards the top of the canvas, exquisite gold and garnet shades move gently towards the curved, canvas edge, driven forward by an avalanche of pale green. Next to this lies a finely pricked surface, drawn through blooms of algae-coloured green and finally merging with a smear of vivid yellow. Near the centre of the canvas, earthy hues of thickened paint bulge gently from a flat space; it is not difficult to imagine this subtle serpentine arrangement as a kind of topographical model of ancient folded mountains.
It is easy to imagine the pale flecks moving over the paint surface as the wakes of small fishing boats viewed from an aircraft window. Since many of the characteristics and features of Duault’s fluid paintings are visually analogous with earthly geological formations and astonishing natural phenomena, it is not surprising to feel a sense of familiarity, of having already having experienced something similar to what we perceive in her work: a clear sense of déjà vu.
Levity is certainly evident in Duault’s work. In Instant 120-2 (2018), there is a suggestion of an underwater scene being viewed through a circular porthole. Swirling shades of warm and cool blues infused with white and traces of black are reminiscent of an oil slick that spreads out and is pushed across the surface of the water by wind and currents. Spots of clear yellow are aligned across the top of the canvas while at the bottom of the canvas the yellow presents as a broad splash. Emerging from the edge of the canvas are what appears to be eight, bright orange, sickle-shaped protrusions, perhaps tentacles that interrupt the sight of the oiled, liquid surface. Patches of earthy red and brown are fused with the orange of the bent appendages, serving to visually ground the invader. Is this an octopus?
In the artwork entitled Instant 120-4 (2018), sinuous layers of simmering, shimmering reds, browns and streaks of warm blue cover most of the top half of the canvas. The bottom half is covered with complex, interfused red, pink and mauve shapes that have a more vertical, structured appearance that can easily be reified as a bed of dense, healthy long-stemmed flowers. A thick wave of cadmium red flows between the two hemispheres. Close to the top edge of the canvas lies a pond of muddied blue. From its combed bottom edge, ‘droplets’ fall towards the floral arrangement below. Set against the fiery earthy colours, the cool blue drops provide the viewer with an expression and prospect of cool, comforting relief from incessant, searing heat. Living in a drought stricken country, this work can be considered a painterly reminder of the material and psychological value of water.
The success of Duault’s work centres on her adept colour appreciation and application and competent technical skill. The abstract nature of the work allows for a broad reading. Audiences should take time to view the works up close and from a distance, and allow time for the magical intricacies and the bigger picture to perform it’s colourful magic.