COMA is pleased to present a solo exhibition, titled ‘Choral Ode‘, by New York-based artist Renée Estée (b. 1993), on view 14 July – 19 August in the Darlinghurst Gallery. This is the artist’s first solo presentation with COMA.
Utilising painting as a gateway to otherworldly realms, Renée Estée negotiates spaces of correspondence and transition, liminal thresholds between life and death. Drawing parallels to Greek Mythology, where protagonists undertake perilous journeys to bring back loved ones, these paintings contemplate the possibility of traversing the afterlife and returning with people, stories, and messages. Each artwork contributes to a larger chorus, echoing the strophe, antistrophe, and epode of a Grecian choral ode—an ode sung by the chorus, transitioning from one side of the stage to the other.
At the heart of this body of work is an elegiac aura—love letters, poems, and farewells. The inclusion of numbers, birth dates, and hours, momentarily ground us in the reality of linear existence, emphasising passages and markers of time that direct and indicate the way that we mourn and remember. Physically the maze-like structure of the presentation intends to disorient and collapses sequential readings of these numbers and figures, suggesting that time is in fact a construct, and life, death and existence fall into each other.
Choral Ode contemplates the notion of souls dwelling beneath the earth, while also considering the presence of angels, ghosts, and spirits residing above us. The repeated imagery of small tombstones across the canvas symbolises the portals, archways, entryways, windows, and doorways that Estée employs to connect us to these omnipresent sentients and lead us to other spaces, both physical and metaphorical. Some paintings evoke a sense of being below ground, while others suggest rising up, floating, or flying above. This feeling is mirrored by the undulating formation of the paintings in the space, as they rise and fall at different levels, so that we are below, above and within the works all at once.
The exhibition is somewhat shrine-like for Estée, as small charms, pearls, and lace adorn the surfaces of the paintings in acts of commemoration and memorialisation. Lace, pearls, and other keepsakes from childhood serve as threads that connect the artist’s personal history and familial narratives, creating a visual archive of collective memory.
Notably, these works explore farewells not only to individuals but also to spaces and environments. The artist’s experience changing geographical locations naturally inspired reflections on the concept of home and the interplay of distance and connection. The Australian landscape took on a newly profound significance—a marker of personal history and identity. Choral Ode is a reflection of the myths and stories we create as a result of loss, contemplating the impermanence of existence and the beauty of memory.
Final Wish, 2023
oil paint, oil bar, charcoal, gold and silver charms, pearls, glitter, gold leaf, collaged canvas on canvas
199 x 196 cm / 78 1/2 x 77 3/16 inches
I Count The Hours In Between, 2023
oil paint, ink, charcoal, found fabric/lace, bronze charm on canvas
214 x 206 cm / 84 1/4 x 81 1/8 inches
I thought I saw you there, out on the other side, 2023
oil paint, oil bar, collaged canvas, glitter on canvas
161.5 x 150 cm / 63 9/16 x 59 1/16 inches
If You Go, If You Go, If You Go (Where Do You Go When You Go?), 2023
oil paint, oil bar, acrylic, charcoal, lace, glitter, collaged canvas on canvas
165 x 160 cm / 64 15/16 x 63 inches
It Comes and Goes (Sometimes I Think of You), 2023
oil paint, gold leaf, found gem, charcoal, collaged canvas on canvas
184 x 189 cm / 72 7/16 x 74 3/8 inches
Not only I, 2023
oil paint, oil bar, china marker, charcoal, gold leaf on canvas
184.5 x 169 cm / 72 5/8 x 66 17/32 inches
There Was A Time I Held You Close, 2023
oil paint, ink, watercolor, charcoal, gold leaf, bronze charms, oil bar on canvas
196.5 x 185 cm / 77 3/8 x 72 13/16 inches
Waiting To Hold You, 2023
oil paint, oil bar, gold leaf, charcoal on canvas
189 x 184 cm / 74 3/8 x 72 7/16 inches
Carry Home (I saw houses in the river, I saw fields on fire, I saw the end once more), 2023
oil paint, oil bar, fabric pearl appliqué, gold leaf, lace trim, found fabric, charcoal, found object, collaged canvas on canvas
182.5 x 222 cm / 71 7/8 x 87 3/8 inches