This exhibition is the first major museum survey of Australian painter Louise Hearman, featuring painting and drawings from across her 25-year practice.
The Melbourne-based artist is best known for her dark dream-like paintings where things may, or may not be, as they seem. It is up to us to imagine what is glimmering in the half-light or lurking deep in the shadows, as the artist offers no written clues to the evocative contents of her works, which are always left untitled.
Working at a small scale, predominantly in oil on Masonite, Hearman returns repeatedly to certain motifs; a child’s luminous face floating in a sea of darkness; the back of someone’s head; a glowing orb; a deserted road; an aeroplane gliding through a gloomy sky; a dog’s disembodied head; a phosphorescent sunset; a melancholic cloud; flowers; birds; cats; and perhaps most bizarrely, rows of giant shining teeth, smiling incongruously. Melbourne’s bush and suburban landscapes feature prominently in her work; often captured at twilight or at sunset and incorporating otherworldly forms that imbue them with a supernatural quality.
Hearman collects imagery for her paintings by photographing her everyday experiences. She mentally recombines these photographs with other images inside her head, and works in her studio to create unsettling compositions that transform the ordinary into something very strange. With great technical skill and rapid brushwork, she focuses intently on capturing particular qualities of light in her subjects. Her disquieting images are reminiscent of fleeting sensory impressions, like something that is glimpsed but not quite seen, caught at the moment just before conscious apprehension.
Hearman’s paintings are often said to have a cinematic quality, and like film stills they capture transient moments of imaginary time. By combining commonplace imagery with personal visions of the unknown and the unknowable, Hearman’s surreal paintings hint at the wonders of the universe and the compelling nature of our nonverbal thoughts.