Louise Forthun: On the grid - Art Collector

Issue 58, October - December 2011

It’s no surprise that Louise Forthun’s work appeals to the architectural fraternity. City-scapes are an abiding interest for this Melbourne painter. In her vertiginous canvases, we are invited to look down on the language and structure of the metropolis and our place on the grid writes Ashley Crawford.

f you suffer from vertigo this work is not for you. A sprawling, epic masterpiece, Into The Light is Louise Forthun’s most ambitious work to date. It sits somewhere between a vision of cyberspace and what one might have hoped from a mature Howard Arkley; a remarkable compendium of graffiti, abstraction and architectural space.

This sprawling behemoth is a triptych with each panel measuring 180 by 180 centimetres – in total almost five and a half metres wide – and it will be the core painting in Forthun’s first exhibition with Melbourne gallery Block Projects this November.

Forthun has been investigating abstracted city-scapes since her first show at the legendary Pinacotheca Gallery in 1985. In an exhibition at Boutwell Draper Gallery in Sydney last year she used Tokyo to portray her obsession with the urban versus the natural world. She has tackled numerous city-scapes around the world, at times melding them to create entirely new, fictitious cities. Her new work brings her firmly back home to Melbourne.

“It’s based on a recently drawn aerial plan of Melbourne which includes the docklands, arterial roads, river, parks, cemetery and zoo,” Forthun says. “It combines the grid with all those curved pattered forms and is multi-layered, with a detailed ribbon of the plan view interwoven with a more detailed view.”

Perhaps inevitably, Forthun’s work is particularly popular in the architectural fraternity, as evidenced by a recent massive commission by the well-known Melbourne architect Corbett Lyon and his wife Yueji for their ambitious Housemuseum project, a residence-cum-museum in the leafy suburb of Kew.

“We’re particularly interested in Louise’s perspective on the contemporary city,” says Lyon, “how she uses the city as a way of representing world culture. Forthun, like Howard Arkley, Peter Atkins and other artists we have collected, is interested in the language, pattern and structure of the metropolis.”

As Lyon points out, this is where 90 per cent of the Australian population live. “It’s no surprise that the city provides some very fertile ground for Forthun to make her work – in contrast to many Australian artists of previous generations who were focused on the Australian landscape and the mythology of the bush.”

He adds: “Over the past five years we’ve seen a strong focus on video art, installation work, photography and new media. Now we’re seeing a renewed interest in and return to painting and I think Louise represents one of the most important practitioners and exponents of this in Australia.”

While she is equally adept at portraying organic forms – indeed, at one stage executing a series of sumptuous flowers – it is the architectural grid that remains the cornerstone of her practice. “Using the map image, I’ve tried to establish this sense of the familiar, but I’ve placed the map into a swirling pool of pigment,” Forthun says.

“People – without stories and events – complicate, confuse and ultimately reveal the city’s complexity. Globalisation, the fluidity of capital and the expansion of communication have also made the city increasingly indistinct.

“Maybe it is the real world, but we can’t accept it. We all thought new technology and incredible changes in globalisation would be a good thing, and it is in a lot of ways, but in another way, I think it makes people feel very alone.”

Forthun’s response to this is to paint feverishly – rewarming the cool cyber-city with a palette that is part electrical grid, part graffiti, welcoming us back into the metropolis.

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