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Denise Eno Ernest

NewarkPicture of Denise Ernest

Visual Arts: Painting

By: Gail Obenreder

“I have to be true to myself and not be swayed. Taking an abstract idea and transposing that into something tangible is the most challenging part of my work.”

Denise Eno Ernest has lived in Delaware for only three years, but she was immediately drawn to the state. For 30 years, she toggled her artistic practice – painting, then photography, now painting again – with a 33-year career in the environmental, health, and safety fields. Assigned to the First State as one of her territories and traveling through Delaware, “I fell in love. It is much like the terrain in Nebraska,” where she was raised.

Ernest has traveled widely and lived in seven states, but it was in Lincoln, Nebraska (“where my family roots are”) that she began making clothes for her paper dolls. “I would sit for hours creating new designs . . . the first inclination that I had artistic ability.” And varied mediums continue to speak to her. “The juxtaposition of paint to the delicacy and eroticism of textiles and found objects creates both tension and vulnerability.”

That dichotomy is evident in her latest work. “I never considered myself to be a feminist artist, but my ‘Women Series’ paintings are focused on feminist issues.” Using her experience as a survivor of abuse, Ernest delves into the hopelessness of women “caught in circumstances where they have no power.” Some paintings have a figural element; others are pure abstractions; but all “reflect the pain women feel in these situations.”

picture of artwork
“Foot Binding A Woman’s Prison (The Women Series) 2 Panels,” 2018, mixed media: acrylic, pearl, interference, gold metallic paint, fabrics, beads, dried leaves, 18 x 18 x 4 inches
artwork with metal, fabric and paint
“Essence – Female (The Women Series),” 2018, mixed media: acrylic, copper and stainless steel metallic paint, copper wire, canvas, thread, scarf, 36 x 36 x 8 inches
artwork with metal, fabric, and paint
“From Light Into Darkness – Forever Chained in Slavery (The Women Series),” 2020, mixed media: acrylic, pearl, interference, silver, copper and stainless steel metallic paint, scarves, chains, 48 x 36 x 6 inches

In 1971, Ernest enrolled at Vermont College and returned to art studies in the 1980s at SUNY Cortland, where her teachers urged her toward a professional BFA. She was accepted into Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning and graduated at the top of her class.

Unable to paint for many years, Ernest turned to photography, still part of her artistic practice. She photographs things forgotten – ruins, old buildings, barns – including a series on the abandoned Yorklyn NVF site. But the urge to paint never entirely disappeared, and it resurfaced in 2009. “I always knew my painting ability had been safely tucked away to re-emerge when the time was right.”

Since artifacts are prominent in her multi-media work, it’s not surprising that Ernest is an avid collector. She has paper dolls (“they sent me on my artistic journey”) and over 500 pop-up books (finding their 3-D engineering “incredible”), but her passion is bells – over 2,500 of them. Mirroring her own search for an artistic voice, Ernest finds “something beautiful and artistic about a bell . . . they each have their own voice to sing when they are rung.”

Ernest has a home studio, so the pandemic hasn’t affected her ability to produce work. But as a relative newcomer, her desire to become part of the state’s artistic community was put on hold by the pandemic. She is “privileged to be part of Delaware’s love of the arts and truly humbled to have been selected as a Fellowship recipient.” The award will allow her to purchase new materials (real metallic paints, for instance), expand her range of textiles, and explore adding uncommon materials to her work. “As a woman who has faced many hardships and heartaches,” Ernest says that the Award affirms, “I am an artist! It’s in every part of me.”

Artist website: www.deniseenoernest.com

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