Louise Zhang: The Paradoxical Grotesque

Louise Zhang: The Paradoxical Grotesque

Louise Zhang is a Sydney based artist who creates sculptures and paintings that are representative of the grotesque. Her objects are layered with beauty and are capable of producing feelings of attraction and repulsion simultaneously. Her upcoming show Monstrous Masses at Artereal Gallery will display the artist’s shiny, slimy and playfully colourful works. Zhang recently completed a Master of Fine Arts and the research involved during her studies informed her practice. Initially working with drawings to then oil paintings she found herself searching for new ways to represent paint.

Career-wise Zhang had wanted to be a fashion designer however she then decided to to stick with art. There wasn’t anything that specifically inspired her to go down the artistic path as she constantly felt a need and want to be creative. Horror films are a strong interest and, at first, the artist didn’t want to discuss the genre because she was attempting to keep her work “traditional”. Feeling restricted, she was trying to find things to talk about until she eventually let go of that concern: “I was denying that part of me and so I was making all of this really pretty stuff but I actually really wanted to go a bit deeper than that and go a bit more grotesque and slimy, but I was afraid. When I started mid-way through my Honours I said ‘I don’t believe any of this, I’m going to be who I am.’” From that moment onwards Zhang has held a renewed sense of confidence and is making discoveries that influence her practice.

During her studies, she was introduced to the concept of the ‘Monstrous Cute’, defined as  re-reading something perceivably gentle or aesthetically pleasing  as something horrifying. This theory awakened endless curiosities and possibilities, giving her the confidence to seek out objects that could be held in this paradox: both attractive and repulsive. Zhang explains: “I always thought that I would never be taken as a serious artist because of how many colours I used or how kitschy or glittery somethings can be. I always thought that serious artists spoke about world issues and had a big voice but my voice doesn’t say stuff about that, it talks about body horror and pretty stuff.”

Through her research, the artworks moved forwards and came to explore body horror: “I look at fear and disgust as two things that are inherent in horror that’s why we are empathetic towards it… By looking through those two things I discovered that disgust is a paradox in itself… for something to repel us it needs to be unsanitary but that also in a sense ignites this curiosity within us.” This interest is most prevalent in the sculptural works which see layers upon layers of a gleaming gooey substance that folds and surges in a seemingly orchestrated yet uncontrolled way. The beguiling sculptures appear fluidly, seeming as though they are looking to find a final position to settle into. An attractive and chemically reactive state of chaos has taken place in each object, however, finding a suitable place to create the works has been a challenge; using materials such as resin, polyurethane and silicone can be dangerous and the space must comply with OH&S standards.

Zhang also creates wall features that explore her areas of investigation. Digitally mapping out the design of these paintings, she manipulates colours to construct a formula of what works best before embarking on the piece itself. The milky palette blends into itself and spasmodic blobs are planted in various areas. This sleek and stylised approach is more controlled when compared to the unpredictable nature of the sculptures; she feels that the sculptures are more effective in activating allure as you can walk around them: “Why does a painting not give that same feeling when you’re in contact with a slimy sculpture?”

At some stage in the future, the artist states that she would like to work with props on film sets. Her long term goal and dream is to: “work with someone in chemistry or science so that we can get a bit crazy so that we could make something in the lab somewhere down the line.” The fine processes and details ingrained in the works is enjoyable to see, and she shares this passion with her audiences: “I would love it if they would take some sort of excitement, curiosity and freshness but also maybe discover something a little bit more disgusting underneath at the same time.”

Sara Sweet

Louise Zhang, Monstrous Masses, 4 May – 28 May, 747 Darling Street, Rozelle, NSW, Australia. For more, visit www.artereal.com.au/exhibition/monstrous-masses/

1. Louise Zhang, …it came from Goo Lagoon, 2015, acrylic, oil and plastics on plywood, 125 x 126cm. Image courtesy of the Artist and Artereal Gallery. Photograph by Brett East.