For more than twenty years Louise Forthun has worked within the discipline of painting regardless of the mental and atmospheric turbulence that has characterized so much of contemporary art practice. With this latest series of paintings she demonstrates a state of self knowledge that her immersion in painting has revealed. This knowledge is a type of unlearning that gives to this series of paintings extreme intensity, beguiling purpose and enormous emotive impact; and we are the beneficiaries of her achievement.
Those familiar with Forthun’s work will still find the patterns of urban representation, the fleeting, abstract fields of colour and the rich and ambiguous reverberation between these apparently different realms. That transitory sense of movement between absence and presence, that others have observed, continues in this new series, but there is a pared back expressive quality to the fusion of these two realms that brings a complex integration to this work. These paintings are not about a division between representation and abstraction but a deliberate harnessing of the painterly possibilities of this juxtaposition.
We might seek in Forthun’s urban figures the solace of a representational narrative or look past them and lose ourselves in the swirling fields of colour that inhabit her paintings. But the city is ultimately unknowable and when architects have attempted to capture it through maps and other representations they merely play out the issues of their own discipline rather than reveal any ultimate truth of the metropolis. Forthun has always understood this; her use of urban representation is really another canvas upon which she explores the victory of pigment over representation and confronts the discipline of painting.
When the first painters outlined their hands on cave walls they established a reverberation between an index of our corporeality and the mystery of its achievement through splattered pigment. The mystery there lay in the field of pigment, its extent, its gradation from a contour that articulates the familiar outwards to a field of indeterminacy. This field of pigment both delineated the known and contained within its ambiguous extent suggestions of experience and memory that were unable to be articulated. For the painter and for us, it is in this realm of mystery enveloping the familiar where we feel, rather than think that painting continues to achieve its primary and visceral impact upon us.
In Louise Forthun’s magnificent paintings we find those early lessons, established in Mootwingee or Lascaux, redeployed through her contemporary eye. The hand of the early painter is here replaced by a city we may recognise but which eludes our interpretation as much as it evokes our memory. Fields of colour sweep under and over this city in undulations of pigment and primary canvas. We approach each painting with glimpses of recognition but inevitably it is the swirling mystery of the pigment’s alchemical action on our selves that leaves us so moved.
Dr Shane Murray