Way back in early 2012, I first met Melbourne artist Esther Stewart. This was at a time when we didn’t work with professional photographers, so I actually photographed Esther’s studio myself. In a ramshackle little studio, in the backstreets of North Melbourne, I met this intensely serious young VCA graduate, and from that very first meeting, it was clear she was going places. ‘I have an inkling that Melbourne based artist Esther Stewart is going to be big’ I wrote in that first article. I didn’t realise just now big, though!
In the six years that have passed since that first meeting, it’s fair to say Esther has established herself as one of Australia’s most celebrated and collectible contemporary artists. Her work has evolved, becoming more complex and layered, though always retaining a focus on bold geometry, distinctive hard-edged lines, and often referencing architecture.
A number of high profile collaborations have also propelled Esther’s practice – most notably, a collaboration with Italian fashion house Valentino (YES!) back in 2015. The luxury label’s entire Autumn / Winter 2015 menswear collection was based on Esther’s paintings, and Esther was flown to Paris to preview the collection, and attend its runway debut. Not bad for a then 27-year old Australian artist!
The following year, in 2016, Esther went on to win Australia’s prestigious Sulman prize, awarded at the Art Gallery NSW for the best subject painting, genre painting or mural project by an Australian artist.
Represented by Sydney’s Sarah Cottier Gallery, Esther has spent the past five years developing her practice even further. ‘I have focussed on deepening my research, as well as broadening the kinds of other people I work and collaborate with’ Esther says. In particular, she has enjoyed working with architects to develop more ambitious, architectural projects, and other craftspeople to extend the possibilities of her practice.
We recently caught up with Esther at Gertrude Contemporary studios in Preston, where she is currently working on paintings for next week’s Melbourne Art Fair.
For people who are not so familiar with your practice, can you tell us a little about your creative inspirations and process?
I have always been very interested in the nexus of art and design – in particular, the ways I can reimagine, collapse and expand spaces through painting and architecture. There are many wide-ranging historical references in my work, including Islamic mosaic, Constructivism, Bauhaus, and the Memphis Group, but I am also very interested in the social and political implications offered by these influences.
What are you looking forward to about this year’s melbourne Art fair and what value do you see in being involved in art fairs such as this?
This year is the inauguration of the new and improved Melbourne Art Fair, which is exciting. The organisers have encouraged solo presentations, and I am pleased to say that I have been working on a solo exhibition with Sarah Cottier Gallery.
Art fairs can be overwhelming, but done well (which I think Melbourne will be), they can offer audiences a valuable glimpse of what local contemporary art currently looks like.
In recent years, the advent of social media and online marketing platforms have greatly impacted the art world, and the pace at which consumers and collectors engage with artists and galleries. How do you feel about the changing landscape, and would you say you have embraced the changes?
Being visible in an increasingly global network has its advantages and disadvantages. If anything, I think added exposure and increased pace has been met by an equally significant resistance – a focus on the local, the physical, etc.
Can you tell us some details about the artwork you will be exhibiting at the Melbourne Art Fair?
I am working on six paintings and four carpet works. These are extensions of my current practice that will be displayed on free-standing constructs as well as the booth walls. I’ve been looking at architectural samples and concepts for display modes recently, and envisage the booth to be a deconstructed space in which the works occupy different, staggered ‘planes’ throughout.
What’s next for Esther Stewart?
I am off to Auckland, New Zealand in August for a show with Object Museum, and another with Bowerbank Ninow.
See Esther Stewart’s work at Sarah Cottier Gallery at the Melbourne Art Fair next month.
Melbourne Art Fair
August 2nd – 5th
Southbank Arts Precinct (alongside ACCA)
111 Sturt Street