‘Air Horn’ is a fitting title for Open Forum‘s exhibition of new paintings by Canadian artist Beth Letain. In one sense, the stark lines of her paintings seem to pierce the walls of the gallery, similarly to that of the instrument’s intrusive noise. On the other hand, the title suggests an ephemerality, associated with a sound floating unattached in mid-air. The minimalist colourful shapes painted on white canvases seem certainly to do this; they almost blend into the white walls of Open Forum, like an elegant form of graffiti. Altogether the exhibition of five paintings transforms the space into a meditative realm. With the gallery divided into two rooms, this ability to pass facilitates the viewer’s movement between them; Letain’s work is highly informed by fictional writing, and so this physical transitioning reflects a mental transcendence to an illusory world generally associated with reading fiction. At the same time, Open Forum is both an apartment and a gallery space and this conflation of the domestic with a platform for experimentation infuses her work with experimental fervour.
Coming from a background in science, Letain’s approach to painting is driven by an ‘imperative.’ Similar to experiments in the laboratory, her paintings are fuelled by inexplicable necessity to leap into the unknown, following only an intuitive urge to explore the possibilities of an action. The supporting material of the work—a text by Lydia Davis entitled ‘A Strange Impulse’—provides insight into the drives underlying her creations. The urge to create these forms comes from within her, a corporeal reaction that is difficult to express. The paintings bring us closer to its manifestation. But this internal process is not confined to the behind-the-scenes stage of Letain’s artistic process. The idea of responding to corporeal signals is visible within the paintings, which exhibit her smooth and often repetitive brushstrokes. The artist’s labour in preparing the canvases through layers of gesso and her gestures in creating the lines are apparent. With their minimal shapes, they testify to Letain’s careful selection of forms from a substantial collection of preparatory drawings.