Archive ... the early days

Very early artworks ... (then known as Eleanor Gates)

drawings, lithographs, etchings, relief print, silkscreen, collage,

ceramics, paintings and mixed media. Background information - see below.

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Unless otherwise specified, site and works Copyright Eleanor Gates-Stuart 2008

Please do not use or reproduce the work on this site without permission

The above image folders show works included in


Exhibition Catalogue - Introduction written by Rosemary Betterton (UK).

The relationship between an artist’s life and her work is never a simple or straightforward one. Eleanor Gates has, through the medium of printmaking, developed a personal language which reworks and represents her experiences in both symbolic and direct terms. On first impression, her large lithographs are joyful and exuberant, overflowing with colour and energy. Humour too is an important element within the work. But, a closer look suggests that the image also have a darker side: masks hide demons: cracks appear below the surface. Both impressions are correct. In her work image and emotion are linked in complex ways which defy a simple reading. Although at first sight, the energy of the work appears to flow effortlessly from one piece to next, it is in fact the product of sustained hard work and immense technical expertise. what appears effortless is, in the nature of the litho process, careful, precise and time consuming in execution. The majority of pieces in this exhibition have been produced during a three year residency in the Department of Fine Art at Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University). Over this period, Eleanor has been able to develop her research into the medium of lithography and a variety of other print techniques. The exhibition also includes a number of earlier pieces which show how the themes and techniques of recent work have had a long gestation with the body of her work as a whole.

Certain motifs recur like the masks which are a central image and music which erupts as a force of energy released. The sense both of containment: of emotions behind masks; of figures within space; and of energy released through colour and movement seems to operate as a crucial tension in the work. Humour and pain, disguise and revelation are echoed in the print techniques themselves which are both layered and stripped away, controlled but apparently spontaneous. In her earlier work, Eleanor drew on a rich resource of ancient symbols from a variety of cultures ranging from greek marbles in the British Museum to Indian masks in Venezuela. these formed a repertoire of images which could be reworked into personal statements. As Eleanor says of her own work in this period:

Symbols and characters gave me a disguise in which to portray a situation and later the mask itself was the sole image I wanted to use.

This interest in mask and the ceremonial quality of votive objects is shown in pieces like Ceremonial Burial (1982) and i(1986). But, while in some work Eleanor uses masks and cultural symbols to express feelings and emotions, other recent prints deal more directly with the difficulty and complexity of human relationships. In the Joke is on me, So many Secrets and Conversation from 1986, a male head in profile is juxtaposed within a female vase-like form. If the female form suggests containment - sometimes broken - the masculine presence is aggressively vocal, even where as in the Same Procedure Next Year the demon-like figure uses music to cut across the woman’s space. Such a personal language should not be read too literally. A vase appears in another guise in Funhouse for ‘Z’ and ‘V as a direct playground for Gates’ two cats.

Some of the work does have a direct reference to deeper emotions as in two pieces which refer to disturbing memories of childhood. In More of a Nightmare than an Adventure a mother holds a child against the backdrop of a tower block which recalls eleanor’s own upbringing in Hyde Park Flats in Sheffield. the childlike images of a toy boat, a car, a child swinging in the tree are counterposed with three red tulips like broken hearts while behind the sad tree a sad face/clown lurks and the mother clutches her child with something like fear. Those fears come to the fore in Walking the Stairs in which a squat, sad figure of a demon/man/child presses against the surface of the image, the tower blocks crowd in, and above them a red dragon prances. The vibrant colour and energy belies the seriousness of the subject of childhood loss and terror. In one of her most recent works, a large silkscreen monotype, the darkness literally rises to the surface forming a dark crust through which the pieces of a body, an unstrung puppet, emerge. This work is one of her most painfully personal dealing as it does with the experience of her father’s illness. Yet, it also refers back to one of the earliest pieces, Ceremonial Burial of 1982, based on masks and rubbings taken from the human body. these appear submerged like ancient remains, artefacts of rubbed bronze or very old, rediscovered objects re-emerging from the depths of time. What links the two as a central concern in her work is the image of the human body.

Another recurring motif in these prints is that of music. The experiences of hearing jazz, orchestral music or a single instrument like the trumpet is evoked in the silkscreen and lithograph Musical Series of 1987. Clashing and vibrant colour and rhythm suggests rather than literally describe the sound and feel of brass, strings and percussion (Party Pieces, jump on the Bandwagon). A series of untitled collage pieces from 1987 continue the musical them in a different form. in each small panel the quality of the wooden frame, marked as though by the passage of time, it is integral a part of the image as the material and texture of the ivory piano keys or body of the violin. this fascination with the shapes and textures of musical instruments as objects in themselves is extended in a new direction in Gates’ most recent pieces, Musical Ceramics, where the forms of instruments and the rhythms of music are embodied in decorated ceramic pots. In some ways this work seems to mark a completely new direction, a move from two to three dimensions, and yet the concerns of the ceramics and the prints are similar: a love of colour; a confident handling of materials and textures; and a fascination with the shapes of objects, both real and imagined. through her work Eleanor gates extends the boundaries of printmaking using a variety of print techniques and drawing, directly applied paint, collage and now ceramics, to explore a distinct and personal language.