Parallel, disparate and exquisite: Pulse by Sue Starcken and The Confectioneer’s Digest by Stuart Elliott 

DIANA McGIRR

Icons – Kattoffeleer, Cuttier. Qe’quist 1, oil on board by Stuart Elliott.

There’s still time to catch Lost Eden Creative’s current exhibitions featuring works by Stuart Elliott and Sue Starcken, on show right over the Easter weekend. I caught up with them recently at this delightful gallery in Dwellingup. Both said they were surprised so many people had turned up for the joint exhibition launch mid March, but surely this is simply an indication of their renown as artists and Lost Eden’s flourishing reputation as a destination and place to be seen beyond the metro art scene.
 
Starcken’s Pulse and Elliott’s The Confectioneer’s Digest are billed as separate shows installed in two discrete spaces. At home the artists share a studio. According to Starcken, one end is cluttered and messy, the other ordered and tidy. I haven’t seen their studio where one paints and fabricates and the other is focused on printmaking, but in conversation with them both at Lost Eden I was struck by subtle parallels in the way they approach their quite disparate practices.
 
These parallels are not apparent when you step through the door of Lost Eden. The initial encounter is Pulse – a series of ten sophisticated intaglio etchings on paper and linen imparting an immediate sense of calm and order. This effect is conveyed by the inherent symmetry and patterning within each composition, coupled with an impression of mono-tonal continuity. Enticed to linger, look and contemplate how each work was conceived and fashioned, closer inspection reveals delicate details and subtle hints of colour that invite consideration beyond a summary response to the collective visual effect of a finely-executed body of work: what’s going on here, what else can I see?
 
Starcken’s practice centres on a meticulous approach to intaglio etching where she transforms hundreds of hand-drawn images into complex compositions through a process involving precision, multiple impressions and immense patience. Layer upon layer of imagery translated via numerous copper plates onto fine quality Hahnemuhle paper or gessoed Belgian linen to form intricate patterns shaped by an interest in medieval church architecture interspersed with details of tiny creatures. The construction of each unique state etching and composite monoprint reveals a process where the pleasure Starcken gains from drawing and repetition has become a purposeful act of dedication.

A Gathering Vapour: dimensions of history and its Dust I and II, (diptych) 2020, unique state etching and composite monoprint on Belgian linen, 814 x 694mm, by Sue Starcken.

Consequently Pulse presents a cohesive body of works that draws on a library of recurrent iconography and a wealth of expertise. Yet within the uniformity, each image or pair of images comprise variations revealing a fluid process of execution that relies on building imagery and structure by allowing the process to dictate what occurs, and when to call a halt after hundreds of impressions.
 
A glimpse of Stuart Elliott’s mysterious ‘museum of confectioneering’ in the adjacent room lures one away from quiet reverie. Described by Elliott as “a concise selection of prototypes, propositions and conjectures,” The Confectioneer’s Digest builds on his notion of fakeology by taking an aspect of popular culture – in this instance food – and using it as an allegory for entropy.
 
Elliott claims his choice of food and confectionary as an allegorical subject matter was arbitrary. Yet the combination of confection, which implies triviality, and ‘eering,’ which conjures images of engineers with precision equipment or profiteers with fiscal intent, offers an ideal paradox to question the concept of over-engineering a product until its original purpose is obscured or lost entirely; a sugar-coated entropy that dissolves into a recipe for disorder. Thus cooking and confectionary serve his ‘bogus’ research project well, for they imply comfort and celebration, but clearly something else is going on that may not be so frivolous.
 
So whilst wit and humour underscore The Confectioneer’s Digest, I’m both amused and slightly unnerved by a flotilla of combative cake slices sailing across a frothy lake, a grieving cup cake, a deflated muffin, a visceral green roast flipping the notion of faux meat, and chef-as-hero dressed for battle in heavy duty uniform with visor, with mixing bowl and spoon as weapons. By taking something simple like a slice of cake or kitchen utensil, decontextualizing and disrupting the status quo by turning it into a visual paradox, the customary pleasures and rituals associated with sugary treats and comfort food have been commandeered by comic absurdity and a twist of melancholy. Is the party over?
 
Through imagery and materials Elliott layers his work with undertones and nuance. He says, “hopefully, unlike the specimens in The Confectioneer’s Digest, dodgy stuff in the real world can be scrutinised, halted and even reversed, if we have the skill to spot it and the will to seriously reconsider before the ‘cake’ becomes toxic.”
 
The unsettling effect of this playful inquisition is heightened by a palette of subdued murky hues and luminous high-keyed colours. Like Starcken, his work has a temporal quality that draws on a repository of observations and sketches, time and skill, to build a collection of exquisitely-fabricated and thoughtfully-conceived two and three-dimensional objects that comprise layers of detail. Then knowing when it’s time to stop, he lets the work itself reveal the consequences of the mix.
 
The opportunity to see these exhibitions at Lost Eden also affirms the role a regional gallery plays supporting what’s produced locally as well as showing us the possibilities of what’s available elsewhere.
 
Sue Starcken Pulse and Stuart Elliott The Confectioneer’s Digest is on show at Lost Eden, 58 McLarty Street, Dwellingup until Easter Monday 18 April. Gallery open Wednesday and Friday 11am–2pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am–4pm.

Palisade, oil on masonite, 175 x 360mm, by Stuart Elliott.

Sue Starcken and Stuart Elliott.

Template for False Hope, unique state etchings and composite monoprints on Belgian linen, by Sue Starcken.

Home Made Burger, oil on board, 515 x 515mm, by Stuart Elliott.

Photos Diana McGirr.

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