In recent years, Esther Stewart has made paintings and sculptures using geometric designs that, while deriving from modernist abstraction, also reference the ornamental trappings of architecture and domestic interiors such as awnings, balustrades, lattices and tiles; marble veneers; patterns on carpets, rugs or wood panelling. Home decorating has associations with the feminine and Stewart uses this domestic vernacular to personalise her abstract language. Often blurring boundaries between art, architecture and design, such works also toy with being functional, like her recent sculptures that double as display screens for paintings, and her patterned carpets that can be displayed hung on the wall.
In How to Decorate a Dump, Stewart presents a colourful, three-dimensional diorama, continuing her enquiry into the aesthetics and ethos of DIY home improvements. The exhibition’s title is borrowed from a 1983 book written by New York decorator Philip Almeida. Stewart’s interest in 1970s and 1980s DIY home-renovation manuals stems from a fascination with what she calls ‘the utopian idea of domesticity’, the desire to create a personalised haven, even when resources are limited and reality falls short of our dreams. Such concerns are often present in the titles of paintings like the doleful I Was Hoping for More 2016 or the more upbeat Tacky Can Be Chic 2016, the latter a catch-phrase borrowed from Almeida’s manual.
Idealised models for living embodied in floor-plans, flat-pack kit or display homes, even dolls houses, pop-up books and theatre sets also provide source material for Stewart’s work. Drawing on these ideas and uniting her sculptural and painting practices, How to Decorate a Dump astutely explores decorative vocabularies and the nostalgic fetishising of olden-day styles.
Esther Stewart lives and works in Melbourne, Victoria. Her work is represented by Sarah Cottier Gallery, Sydney.
Stewart completed a Master of Cultural and Arts Management, University of Melbourne in 2012-2014; a Bachelor of Fine Arts, (First Class Honours), majoring in Sculpture and Spatial Practice at the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne in 2010.
Solo exhibitions include, Melodrama at Sarah Cottier Gallery, 2017, Double 54“ x 74” at Two Rooms Gallery, Auckland, 2017, How to Decorate a Dump at Heide Museum of Modern Art in Melbourne, 2016, Behind Closed Doors at Sarah Cottier Gallery in Sydney, 2016; Display Home, the Act of Living at Firstdraft in Sydney, 2015; Timeshare at Station Gallery in Melbourne, 2015; Endless That’s the Problem at Utopian Slumps in Melbourne, 2014; Geometric Colour at Craft Victoria in Melbourne, 2013; Makin’ Plans at Utopian Slumps in Melbourne, 2013; Carton at Rearview in Melbourne, 2011; and Futurity at TCB in Melbourne, 2010
Commissions include: Symbol, Moving to the threshold, Lacey Street Private commission in Sydney, 2017; Threshold, Bendigo Hospital Large Scale wall painting in Bendigo, 2016; Chenchow Little Apartment Darling Point Sydney permanent installation in Sydney, 2015; and the Valentino X Esther Stewart Men’s haute couture 2015/2016 Winter/Fall Range in Rome and Paris, 2015.
Stewart has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards including a funded position at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture residency program in Maine, America, 2017, The Sir John Sulman award at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2016, Next Wave Festival (Kickstart award) in Melbourne in 2012; and the National Gallery Women’s Association in Melbourne (Undergraduate award) in 2009.