Life studies in batik

My work with the Figure in batik

The figure, whether portrait or life, has always interested and inspired my work. From early on I attended life drawing classes with my dad, learning to understand the complexities of the human figure in line and tone.

Having a passion for batik I naturally explored portraiture in the medium, starting with simple profiles, experimenting with dye and wax to achieve convincing flesh and shadow values.

Resting in orange, batik on cotton, 52cm x 33 cm.

The excitement of blending life-like figures into an ornamental, decorative backgrounds inspired a more ambitious approach, soon I was batiking life-sized figures in large batik hangings.

Lillian as Daphne, batik on cotton, 122cm x 183 cm.

The batik artwork of Daphne was modelled by my good friend Lillian, a painter. The batik is based on the myth of Apollo and Daphne, but I chose a mulberry tree rather than a laurel, purely for aesthetic reasons.

Apollo, a god, notices Daphne, a young nymph, when walking through the forest one day. She’s stunning, so of course, he immediately falls in love with her. Set upon seizing her for his own, he chases after her. Daphne, however, has already committed to lifelong chastity under oath of the virgin goddess Artemis. As Apollo closes in on her, Daphne quickly prays to her father, the river god Peneus, to destroy the beauty that entices Apollo, and soon her body twists and transforms into a laurel tree. Though her beauty still prevails in her tree form, all Apollo can do now is embrace her trunk and fashion himself a crown of laurel leaves in her remembrance. As a tree, Daphne escapes Apollo’s sexual advances and maintains her virginity while still upholding her extreme beauty.

Study for Daphne, charcoal. Lillian study in paisley, sketch in watercolour for Daphne Batik.

James As Nude Youth, 183cm x 228cm, Batik on cotton.

Sketches for batik of ‘James as Nude Youth’.

James as Nude Youth was inspired by Michelangelo’s fresco paintings of beautiful young men.

Left: Detail of Nude Youth, Ceiling Fresco for the Story of Creation, Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo, 1509.

Victorian Olympus was a book cover commission by Cardinal for the William Gaunt Trilogy including; Aesthetic Adventure, Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy and Victorian Olympus. This was the third in the series that I worked on.

Victorian Olympus, batik on cotton, 122cm x 210 cm.
Artwork for book cover illustration.

Sketches of Zeline for Victorian Olympus.

Batik life drawings

Waking Nude, batik on cotton, 51cm x 34 cm.
Nude on Pale blue, batik on cotton, 51cm x 33 cm.
Nude on sea shore, batik on cotton 51cm x 33cm.

Boudoir, batik on cotton, 40cm x 58cm. Detail of Boudoir, batik.

Pink floral nude, Batik on cotton, 51cm x 33cm.
Red nude, batik on cotton 51cm x 33 cm.
Blue, batik on cotton, 53cm x 33 cm.
Ruby, batik on cotton, 53cm x 33 cm.
Edwardian nude, batik on cotton , 51cm x 33cm, sold.
Nude Lady with Parrot, batik, 51cm x 33 cm.
Aqua with daffodils, batik on cotton, 51cm x 33cm.
Pink Dawn, batik on cotton, 51cm x 33cm, sold.
Sleeping in yellow, batik on cotton, 51cm x 33cm.
Green room, batik on cotton, 51cm x 34 cm.

Danae, batik on cotton, 40cm x 58cm. Danae detail, batik on cotton.

Danae and The Shower of Gold, batik on cotton, 53cm x 33cm.

Shower of gold, detail. Blue Dawn, batik on cotton, 50cm x 33cm.

Sirens, batik on cotton, 122cm x 228cm.

Mermaids or sirens in art have interested me mythologically and aesthetically throughout my life. In Sirens I chose my friend Susie as the model for both sirens and used studies of an ex boyfriend for the collection of perished seafarers

Batik interpretation of ‘Gabrielle d’Estrées et une des soeurs’.
Batik on cotton by Marina Elphick.

In the anonymous French painting Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters (ca. 1594), two women—one presumed to be Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France, and the other her sister, the Duchess de Villars—turn half towards the viewer as they sit in a bathtub lined with silk. The women have faces the shape of upturned petals; thin, arched eyebrows; skin the same color as the pearls they both wear in their ears. They are naked from the waist up, and both women’s small, dark eyes are locked on the viewer, mouths tight and ambiguous.

But what everybody sees first, what viewers can’t help but fix their gazes on, is the hand of the woman on the left as it pinches the nipple of the woman on the right, her index finger and thumb forming a perfect “C.” Above them, ruched silk curtains, heavy as thunderclouds, are parted as though the audience is at a stage’s edge. The viewer’s voyeuristic position sets the scene as a performance.

There’s an obvious eroticism to the image: the fearlessness of their gazes, the soft curves of flesh, the erect nipples. The pinch itself constitutes the only moment in the painting where skin meets skin, where contact is between the subjects rather than with the audience. Throughout history the painting has been widely accepted as though it depicts a lesbian relationship. In the 19th century, for instance, The Louvre museum official reportedly covered up the “lewd” painting with a sheet.

However, rather than a depiction of lesbian foreplay, most art historians interpret the painting as an announcement that Gabrielle is pregnant with the King’s illegitimate son. It’s her sister who is signaling this to the audience, not her lover. The fingers wrapped around Gabrielle’s nipple symbolizes the latter’s fertility, an allusion emphasized by the presence of the figure sewing baby’s clothes in the back of the painting.

Figures in art continue to fascinate me, in portrait, life or clothed form. They have almost always featured in my artwork and will continue to do so in future, in drawings, three dimensional muses and further batik and mixed media work.

A selection of batik nudes by Marina Elphick.

References and Acknowledgements:

Hallie O’Neill, Daphne and Apollo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s