After a serious knee injury while representing Wales at a rugby world championship, Sydney based Esther Eckley managed to turn a misfortune into a successful new direction in life. As she recovered from her injury all her energy and drive was converted into painting and the activity became a kind of therapy for Esther. Since that time, she has exhibited her works all around the world and is particularly recognized for her distinct technique with the palette knife, which adds a new dimension and life to the subjects she paints. There is a sense of timelessness, and yet contemporary appeal to the vivid images of fruit, flowers, and inanimate objects Eckley produces on canvas.
Her works can be found at exhibitions including Michael Reid Murrurundi, Dungog Contemporary, Walcha, Moree and KAB Gallery.
What is your educational background in art? What are some of your biggest artistic achievements?
I don’t have an arts degree, but have participated in numerous and various short courses ranging from screen printing, to pottery and still life sessions. I have found that just by sitting and painting, drawing or sketching, you get better at it like with anything and I’ve reached a point now where I’m really content with the quality of work I’m producing and seeing myself develop and improve daily. My biggest artistic achievement was to be a full-time artist, which I am. I am so grateful everyday to be in this wonderful position, to be able to wake up everyday and look forward to the next challenge that’s ahead of me with the canvas.
Please tell me about rugby and how your passion for rugby translated into your artistic career.
Yes I used to play rugby for Wales (I am Welsh and now live in Australia and have been here for 3 years). I badly injured my knee playing in the European Championships and was told I would never play again, which was a devastating blow at the time and at 27 years of age. So, I turned to art. I was quite good at it in school I thought, and it was the best therapy! That’s how I got back into painting and enjoyed it as a hobby for about 13 years. I have only been a full-time artist for the last year. I have no interest however in painting sports people!!
What is your fascination with fruit and why do they always come in threes? Why do they all have the same plate and background?
I think fruit are very often overlooked, don’t you? We’re so used to seeing them that now possibly we’ve forgotten how exquisite they are. They’re so beautiful, vibrant and deep in colour that I thought they would be an excellent subject, but I do paint other stuff too!! I like to have a series of paintings especially if I’m painting for an exhibition, so I painted a series of six fruit bowls with three of the same fruit for Walcha Gallery, and have just done a series of six of four of the same fruit for Murrurundi! I am adaptable with numbers! Fruit are quite difficult to paint, and this was one of the main reasons why I wanted to paint them. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of painting a lemon.
Why inanimate objects?
Fruit and flowers aren’t inanimate! I love objects, and tend to love the same old ink pots and vases, but I think we’re all like that aren’t we, and have our favourite things? I’ve always liked old objects especially but not ornaments. They need to be practical objects that ideally have a dual purpose! I like to balance the objects and the fruit/flowers in some of my paintings, to balance the boldness of the objects with the femininity and fragility of the flower for instance.
What is your thought process when painting and how does that compare to the emotions you are trying to evoke out of your audience?
I don’t try to evoke emotions with my paintings, I just paint what I love and try to challenge myself daily. I don’t decide in advance what will make my audience happy or not. I paint what comes from the heart and the desire for that day. I try to keep it simple, because I am all for simplicity in my paintings and don’t try to cram too much into one painting. I’m not afraid of spaces of colour and think they’re just as beautiful as the other more intricate and complex part of a painting.
Why create texture with a palette knife and remind the viewer that your work is a painting instead of making your work as ‘picture-like’ as possible?
I just adore the look of a painting that’s been done with a palette knife because it comes alive more in my view with the shadows that the strokes create. I moved away from using the knife a long time ago, but returned to it recently beacause i think it adds something quite special to a painting and another dimension. I like the contrast between the ‘picture like’ likeness of the fruit for example to the surreal background of my work, but it works I think! In Wales, there was a well-respected Welsh artist called Sir Kyffin Williams who was a master of the palette knife and produced unbelievably beautiful and powerful works, so I was brought up with this style from a young age and it possibly reminds me of home.
How much does your environment affect your work?
Yes, the environment impacts greatly upon my work. The colour palette has completely changed since I moved to Australia from Wales three years ago. I used to paint moody landscapes and seascapes in Wales and navy, brown and grey were constantly used! I have a much lighter palette now that I see the sun more or less every day! It’s phenomenal the difference in colours in different countries. Although I’m doing still life scenes, the Australian light colours are being reflected in my work
Do your objects exist in a specific time period?
No, my paintings don’t exist in a specific time period. I feel as though they are contemporary, but others might have a different view! I do use old objects, but they don’t appear old in the paintings because of the background colourings possibly. They’re quite minimalistic, which might add to the contemporary element.
ALL PHOTOS VIA ESTHER ECKLEY