WE ARE STARDUST
Exhibition essay by Miri Hirschfeld
Exhibition essay by Miri Hirschfeld
There’s a man standing on the right of the painting We Are Stardust wearing a peaked hat and collared shirt. There are earrings in his ears and a few glimpses of tattoos are visible, with rolled up sleeves revealing the musculature and prominent veins of his arms. To the left a hanging plant looks like a human heart or brain, an organ of some kind, with leaves protruding like arteries from a bulbous basket, curling around and blending with a linear pattern decorating the background. Irregular and loose, the pattern contrasts with the precise treatment of the figure and plant, as though, once the primary subjects were taken care of, the artist let her paintbrush wander.
As much attention is given to the weave of the shirt’s fabric and the folds in the hat as, say, the facial hair or the skin. It is not surprising then, to learn that the artist, Belinda Wiltshire, works in textiles too, sometimes making the garments worn by her subjects. I can see it in the work. In its decorative nature, the textures described so carefully.
In another painting, Go Ask Alice, a blonde-haired woman is swathed in fabric, looking downwards and interlocking her fingers on top of her head. In this work, many patterns coincide: the hair of the subject, the fringe of the garment she wears (made by Wiltshire specifically for this image), her headband, and the fabric with its geometric print. When I first saw this painting in its early stages, hair, fringe and fabric were all merging and it was difficult to distinguish one from another. Areas of unpainted canvas created a faded effect, like an overexposed photograph.
Both works are part of an exhibition by Wiltshire titled We Are Stardust, containing portraits and still life scenes. To make this series of paintings Wiltshire used only four colours in a method inspired by the CMYK printing process. Initially photographing her subject and then digitally separating the colour into cyan, magenta, yellow and black, Wiltshire painted the details of each onto canvas, applying one at a time, with translucent layers filtering one another and creating more complex tones.
I am looking at images of the finished paintings and Go Ask Alice has changed. The colour has more depth, making textures more distinct and balancing the tones, which are warmer now. A panel has been added to the bottom so the figure is no longer cropped – now there are legs and toes with painted toenails. The fringed garment is mirrored faintly in the lower part of the canvas, but curiously, feet and toes are omitted from the reflection. An intriguing development, this gives the impression that the cloth (rather than the woman) is the primary subject of the work. A band of sheer fabric at the bottom of the figure’s skirt reveals the skin of her calves beneath it, and again I am reminded that Wiltshire is a textile artist.
Wiltshire’s work merges seemingly incongruous elements. Costume, painting, photography, and printing all coexist on her canvases, indeed all are fundamental aspects of her practice. Looking at Wiltshire’s paintings makes me consider the relationship between different mediums, and the way that they intersect and are indebted to one another. I think that’s what draws me to these works – their combination of the traditional and the contemporary; of handcraft and technology. They are slippery, borrowing from and traversing many disciplines.
The notion we are stardust is both poetic and scientific – the idea that everything on earth is made from the same essential elements despite enormous superficial disparity. This concept seems apt in relation to Wiltshire’s work, which utilises basic colours and materials to achieve subtle and sophisticated results. Titles derived from song lyrics and titles add a sense of lyricism, a playfulness, at odds with the rigorous and methodical process. Almost but not quite contradictory, it is an unlikely pairing. Like poetry and science. Or technology and painting.