The paintings in Louise Forthun’s exhibition take their inspiration from a large zinc factory in Tasmania. These are industrial works, depicting multi-tiered factory levels, zig-zagging props and struts, pipes, chimneys and scaffolding, which are all placed-down via an arduous process of meticulously-cut stencil layers. There is a sense that, as well as building up the images, the artist is also embarked upon a sort of ‘excavation’ of them also. We see the buildings ‘skeletonised’ as their construction is laid bare and revealed.
There is a heavy-metal colour scheme employed across the exhibition, which reflects the subject matter. Flat slabs of zinc-grey butt against areas the colour of lead, over which, sooty blacks are used, sometimes in sharp focus, sometimes in a ghostly ‘misregistration’, that almost resembles embossing and suggests that the structures are on the verge of disintegrating. This gives some of the images a surreal, dream-like quality, as if they are a snapshot from a fluctuating memory. The shifts between sharp- and soft-focus gives a sense that the structures are perhaps wreathed in smoke or other fumy effluvia.
In one instance, the structure is stamped out in a toxic-looking yellow, recalling the poisoning of the landscape around Tasmania’s Queenstown or Zeehan during their mining history.
In this exhibition, Forthun has explored the significance of empty spaces, which she uses to great effect in isolating the structural elements. This results in the ‘opening-up’ of the areas around them, suggesting that these painted forms are but sections of a larger abstract world beyond the edges of the canvases.
Forthun’s abstract factory-structures stand sombre and elegant in their metallic swathes. They are entirely contemporary images, and yet they also arguably remind us of the great Victorian age of steam.