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A Thin Line

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Painter and printmaker Lisette Forsyth often explores the convergence of past and present, especially through her thoughtful interweaving of acrylic and fine ink illustrations with recycled scraps from historical 1840s Gazettes; old books; vintage archival maps or even discarded construction plans.

“I would say it all started when I moved to Woodstock, Cape Town, where I observed people upcycling on the streets. I was prompted to do the same by salvaging a piece of wood and experimenting with the possibilities. I remember finding a 1956 Wage Ledger with its grim pattern of number and lines. At the time, South Africa was restless, rioting against the minimum wage discrepancy. Inspired by Claude Monet`s singular ‘The Coal Workers’ (the famous impressionist`s only work to feature gritty reality rather than dreamy landscapes), Lisette contemplated the small beginnings of a project that would later be titled; ‘Honest Day`s Work’, which came about in 2013.

A virtuoso at skillfully repurposing interesting surfaces into unexpected canvases; Forsyth notes that her ideas are “birthed through meditation and contemplation as the images and surfaces find each other. That`s what I call the magic. It`s quite uncanny sometimes.”

When she first arrived in Woodstock, Forsyth initially did graffiti art on walls. “Based on this experience, I wanted somehow to incorporate aspects of the neighborhood`s energy and moving, modern images into the studio. Actually, much of my art today still has its roots in street art.”

She admits that her work originally took a protest stance. “But it reaches beyond the social and political margins of conventional activism – it is also an expression of celebration and acknowledging how diverse we are.”

Through merging sketches of our quotidian, societal struggles with historic maps, Lisette creates dialogue with the viewer. Reclaimed surfaces garner a life and contemporary manifesto of their own.

For her latest exhibition, ‘A Thin Line’, the project is more personal. Born in Namibia in 1968 when it was still South West Africa, Lisette found her creative trajectory, like a homing bird, traced back to a place she hardly knows. “The title carries multiple meanings. A thin line on the map indicates a dirt road. A thin line connects me to Namibia. A thin line is the smallest detail. A thin line between genius and sanity; love and hate; life and death.” The works are featured on same sized maps that are framed in a method referred to as ‘float’ – raised to retain the rough edge of the used map.

Returning to her country of birth has signified an early, naive handshake. “As I crossed the border into Namibia, I immediately sensed peace.” During her travels, she consciously tapped into her observations of the country, admittedly, from a starry-eyed ‘touristic glance’. She hopes it is the first of many explorations. “During my travels, I wanted to keep finding more relevant surfaces and use opportunities to get deeper into the ticking and underbelly of Namibia.” Lisette plans to return to Namibia for the exhibition, currently on show at The Project Room. “There is still so much to uncover on this journey.”; as these new compositions hopefully point towards a continued unearthing of memory, enchantment, and time. “There`s magic in the non-linearity of time passing; the past and present touching sides and bursting with joy.”

A Thin Line opens Friday the 15th of September and will run until the 7th of October.

Find the catalogue to the exhibition here.

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