Contemporary Tradition, Elisabeth Deane

Elisabeth Deane is a painter who uses ancient traditional techniques to make work with an entirely contemporary aesthetic. Her impeccable use of colours and detailed brushwork are inspired by Islamic geometry and the miniature painting traditions of India and Iran.


MY PERSIAN STUDIO, 2019

Gold leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

31.7 x 22.3 cm 12 1/2 x 8 3/4 in

 

We talked to Elisabeth about her journey as an artist, and the preservation of cultural heritage and traditional arts.


FLOWER CIRCLES, 2019

Gold leaf, shell gold, platinum leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on antique Indian paper

19 x 17 cm 7 1/2 x 6 3/4 in

 

Your works are inspired by Islamic geometry and the miniature painting traditions of India and Iran. What made you develop an interest in these artistic traditions?


A trip to Italy sparked my initial interest in pigments, traditional painting techniques and binders. In 2013, after two months teaching young women in Chandigarh, Northern India, I arrived in Udaipur to see my brother George and to have a short break before returning home. It was there that I first visited the studio of Sanju Soni – a Master miniature painter from a family of miniature painters based in Udaipur, Rajasthan.

PARAKEETS OF INDIA, 2019

Gold leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

51.1 x 36 cm 20 1/8 x 14 1/8 in

 

It was then that I became bewitched by the fine lines of the squirrel hair brush and the sheer calm, focus and precision needed to wield one. It felt akin to watching a martial artist. It was this particular afternoon that germinated the seed of my journey eventually leading me to enrol at The Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts. I am especially inspired by Morrocan zellige tilework, kilim carpets and the miniature geometries found in Persian miniature paintings.


2,040 STARS, 2018

Gold leaf, platinum leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

60 x 58 cm 23 5/8 x 22 7/8 in

 

How did you train to become an artist specializing in these traditional artforms?


I learnt much of my craft at the Prince’s Foundation School of Traditional Arts where I completed an MA in 2017 and where I also met my husband Jethro Buck – a fellow artist and miniature painter. While I was there, I had the opportunity to work with some incredible miniature painters.


After my wedding to Jethro, we spent January and February 2018 in India working with Master Miniature painter Ajay Sharma and his wife Vinita. Aside from enjoying our chai breaks with their aromas of cardamom and ginger, we also improved our brushwork and knowledge of plant-based and stone pigments.


Why is the preservation of cultural heritage important?


For me painting is about ‘connection,’ both inwardly and outwardly. Connecting to myself, connecting to Earth through making natural paints, connecting to people and cultures and building deeper insights and relationships through art and the various visual languages of traditional crafts.


KITE (FLY WITH FAITH), 2019

Gold leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

51.1 x 36 cm 20 1/8 x 14 1/8 in

 

In globally tumultuous times, with an increasing trend towards division and suspicion, the capacity of the arts to transmit nuances of thought and perspective across cultures feels more essential than ever. Working with and learning from artists in India and Pakistan is and has been an amazingly positive cross-cultural experience for me, in which new ideas are born alongside traditional practices.

ALBATROSS SNOW DREAM, 2017

Natural pigment and Arabic gum on antique Indian paper

31.5 x 21.5 cm 12 3/8 x 8 1/2 in

 

Can you share your favourite work of art you have created so far with us and why?


My favourite work that I have created so far is ‘The Golden Yoke’. This painting illustrates the Buddhist teaching ‘The Blind Turtle and the Golden Yoke’, a story to remind us that our human life is a rare and precious opportunity. The story goes that there is a blind turtle that lives under the sea and once every one hundred years he swims up to the surface of the ocean. On the surface of the ocean, a golden yoke is tossed around in the sea breeze. What are the chances of the turtle surfacing at just the right moment and in just the right place to be able to put its head through the yoke? Being born into a human embodiment allows us liberty, opportunity and intentional choice. This means we are able to reflect, access teachings on personal transformation and act. How lucky we are. Our human life is so precious. In my rendition of this story, ‘the yoke’ is a golden spiral – in the centre of a spiral is the calm core through which man passes to eternity.

THE GOLDEN YOKE, 2019

Gold leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

54.3 x 33.1 cm 21 3/8 x 13 1/8 in

 

What do you think the future of Islamic art looks like and how do you think we can continue to keep artistic traditions alive?

When I think of Islamic art, I think of geometry. Geometry appeals to me because it is always alive, it is a universal and a timeless aesthetic language. On the macro scale, geometry connects us to the order and harmony in the natural world. It is found in a snowflake, in the petals of a flower, in the proportions of the human body and in the celestial dance of the planets. Geometry is at once prosaic – a tool for drawing shapes – and a timeless mystery, indicative of the patterns underpinning our existence.

PULSE, 2019

Italian gold leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

50 x 51.5 cm 19 3/4 x 20 1/4 in

 

An aspect that amazes me about Islamic design is how the ‘micro’ is reflected in the ‘macro’ and vice-versa. These forms, like planetary orbits, remind me of the beautiful diagrams by Persian cosmographers, for example, those found in the manuscript ‘The Wonders of Creation and the Oddities of Existence,’ a treatise on the marvels of the universe by Zakariya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (1203–1283).

HOMAGE TO S.H. RAZA, 2019

Gold leaf and natural pigments on antique Indian paper

31 x 21.5 cm 12 1/4 x 8 1/2 in

 

My work is inspired by the unity, logic and order found in Islamic geometric designs. I love the way in which the combination of geometry, arabesques, and calligraphy simultaneously create beauty, harmony and complexity.

MOUNT NOOR, 2019

Italian gold leaf, palladium leaf and natural pigments on linen

150 x 150 cm 59 1/8 x 59 1/8 in

 

Islamic art of the past is so rich, varied and diverse and there is enough material to inspire many generations to come. Drawing geometry is like tapping into an eternal spring.

THE SEVEN GATES, 2019

Italian gold leaf, palladium leaf, natural pigments and Arabic gum on handmade Indian hemp paper

122.5 x 94 cm 48 1/4 x 37 1/8 in

 

For more information about Elisabeth Deane check out https://elisabethdeane.com/


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