Elisa Hall is an inspired local artist who teaches and creates intriguing works with an old school approach. FOCUS went along to her studio in Bellingen to learn about her journey and see where the inspiration for her art is found.
What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?
I’ve lived around Bellingen for almost 17 years. I moved up here from the south coast of Sydney, where I had been living by the sea. Like everyone else, I was drawn to the natural beauty of the place, as well as the idea of living in an alternative community. I spent the first ten years on a multiple occupancy in the Thora Valley, learning how to grow food, share resources and use a ride on lawnmower and solar power. I’m now in town trying to focus more on art.
Could you describe how you became involved in visual arts?
I’ve been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember. My parents were in medicine, but loved and supported the arts, so it was always around. My dad would drag me around galleries and think nothing of throwing the three kids in the car to drive from Adelaide to Melbourne for a show. So they were great! They sent me to evening life drawing classes when I was 14. When I was 19 and bumming around, my dad threw me in the car (again) and drove me down to the art school and got me to enrol. I really wanted to paint, but the department was a bit lacking, so I went into printmaking. I had an incredibly good teacher called Rob Jones, who encouraged me a great deal. We are still in touch, more than 30 years later, and I still value his opinion. Later I moved to Sydney and was fortunate to learn oil painting from Charlie Sheard, another invaluable teacher.
In the ‘90s I was very active in Sydney. I was part of a collective of artists who exhibited during Mardi Gras under the name “Word of Mouth”. We ran theatre and writing evenings, as well as visual art shows for quite a few years. It was exciting times! I also set up and ran a gallery with a friend in King St, Newtown, called Bare, which showcased many new and emerging artists. I had solo shows and was involved in group shows.
What are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m working on a range of things. I recently had an exhibition at the Coffs Regional Gallery, so right now I’m between projects. There are a lot of works in progress. My show was depictions of beloved and inherited objects, specifically old tools and toys, so there’s definitely a continuation of that idea going on, but I’m heading towards different surfaces, so from metal and fur towards timber and leather. I’m also keen to head back to my first love, which is the portrait. I think all of my paintings are about that which we hold dear.
As an artist, how would you describe your style and approach to a subject?
My style is definitely realist, but I do like to push that a little bit, and I really don’t like photorealism. I’d say my work is pretty strong. My approach is completely old school traditional painting technique. First a coloured ground, then a tonal underpainting, followed by layers of opaques and transparent glazes, so they’re certainly not quick to produce. But the technique is crucial to me to get the surface looking how I want it. I like a fair bit of austerity too, simplicity over busyness. I always work from life, using natural light.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration all over the place. It might be colour, or particular things. I have many more ideas than the time to execute them …
What artists do you admire and draw influence from?
I admire so many artists! The Renaissance painters Velasquez, Carravaggio, Rembrandt, Titian, Georgione, and Artemesia Gentileschi, for their astonishing skill. Manet for his creamy paint. Egon Schiele and David Hockney for their beautiful drawings of their intimate lives. Same for Frida Khalo, and Kathe Kollowitz. I really love Barbara Hanrahan too. And Od Nerdrum for his post apocalyptic visions, so incredibly painted. And all of the early Lucien Freuds …
If you could live anywhere in the world to experience a specific period of art, which would you choose and why?
If I could live anywhere, it would be in the studio of Titian, in Venice, in the Renaissance. All roads lead back to Titian. The master!
What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking up art either as a profession or a hobby?
I would advise someone interested in art as a career to keep going. That it is a really long and wonderful road. That where you are at with it at twenty will be vastly different to when you’re fifty. That the art world is fickle, so you need to do it for yourself and not seek adulation. There are many times of struggle, of blocks and frustration, but there is also soaring joy to be had. Of personal fulfilment and development. Of a deep sense of purpose. I would say work regularly and be disciplined. But don’t be in it for the money!
What are some of the favourite works you have created?
My favourite work is always the one I’m currently working on! But there are some others. My parents’ wedding dinner set, painted after they died. A hammer which I found at the markets. Leather suitcases I inherited. Things left behind.
What are your plans for the future?
My plans for the future are to keep painting as long as I can. To see my boy grow up. To have a voice and fight for what I believe in. To love well and be loved in return. And to grow flowers.
Where can people find out more about you and your art?
I have a Facebook page which has images from the last exhibition. Next year I’m planning a show for the Bellingen Brewery, and one for First Avenue.
I have been hung in the EMSLA still life competition in Coffs every year. I’m currently in the middle of doing a painting for that.
I also teach and mentor other artists, both in a class situation, and privately. I currently teach oil painting classes.