An enthusiasm for abstract painting, which began when Jonathan Forrest was an art student in Saskatoon in the 1980s, continues to inspire new approaches to artistic creation.
An investigative exhibition of his work is currently on display at the Swift Current Art Gallery. It features a selection of large paintings dating from 2002 to 2019 as well as a wall of 13 smaller paintings covering the period 1985 to 2017.
This is the first time that this collection of works has been presented in an exhibition and it is also planned for a future exhibition at the Moose Jaw Museum and Art Gallery. He will usually do an exhibition of his recent works, which makes this exhibition different.
âThis is really the first time I’ve had the opportunity to look back and have some sort of date range survey,â he said.
The title of the exhibition, One thing leads to another, reflects his process of artistic creation over the years which has allowed him to explore different directions.
âIt kind of came up while I was prepping for the show,â he said. âI had this idea that it was as if one series of paintings led to the next set of paintings, led to the next, to the next. So it was in a way this evolution starting not from a planned course, but rather from a revolving, changing and evolving evolution of paintings. â¦ It’s just a matter of taking what you’ve done and internalizing it, and then going ahead and seeing what happens.
Forrest was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and came to Saskatoon as a teenager in the late 1970s. He attended the University of Saskatchewan, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1983 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1991.
“A lot of interest I have in painting sort of comes from the coincidence of where I ended up living and who I ended up studying with,” he said.
There was a vibrant community of painters in Saskatoon and abstract painting was part of that tradition, but by the early 1980s many of these artists moved on.
âEven when I immersed myself in painting, most of my peers were interested in exploring other possibilities in art, but there was something about painting that suited me,â he said. âPainting is really my inclination. Doing something with my hands, being alone in the studio, tapping into a non-verbal expression or intuition all matched my personality perfectly. And the fact that the painting was pushed to the margins, well, that only made it more appealing to me. “
He studied with a number of artists, but the second and third year painting courses presented by abstract painter Robert Christie had a crucial influence.
âThe ideas and possibilities discussed in these courses were the foundation on which I built my career,â said Forrest. “But more importantly, Bob’s support, mentorship and friendship over the years has helped me get through the roller coaster of the past four decades.”
He attended his first Emma Lake Artist Studio in 1985, then returned several times over a 25-year period. The last he participated in dates back to 2012, and these workshops have contributed to his development as a painter.
âAs a young painter, it was exciting to spend two weeks working side by side with such a range of artists who learned by doing, making something, trying it on for size,â recalls- he. “My experience was more like an apprenticeship, learning a trade by making and many of the pieces in the exhibit were painted in various workshops.”
He lived in Saskatoon for many years and set up studios in various locations around the city, but about 15 years ago he bought an old church about an hour east of Saskatoon in the small community of Carmel. to use as a summer studio.
He moved to Vancouver Island about eight years ago, but still comes back to Saskatchewan every year during the summer to spend time in his studio on the Prairies.
All of the paintings in this exhibition are in his personal possession, and the selection process provided an opportunity to reflect on his career. He realized how important those Saskatoon beginnings in the 1980s and early 1990s were to his career.
âLooking back now at those times, I can actually see how unique and exciting it was,â he said.
The paintings in the exhibition represent various aspects of his development as an artist. He was already experimenting with a combination of different materials in a painting created in an Emma Lake artist studio in 1985.
âEven at this early stage I had this impulse to do things to open up a creative space, to use the materials to move away from myself, away from what I could consciously think of using little materials. Orthodox that wouldn’t last, might not even stick to the surface, “he said.” I thought there was nothing to lose and it gave me this great mental freedom. “
Other paintings in the exhibition highlight his use of bright colors and contrasting textures, or his change of direction to try something different.
âIt’s kind of a habit that I have of having a pendulum motion of trying color opposites to geometry,â he said.
A more recent painting from 2018 is the result of feedback he has received from other artists, which motivated him to take another look at the work and continue with it. The painting is therefore aptly titled Second look.
âThere is this misconception that you make art in a vacuum,â he said. âBut there are so many outside factors pushing and pushing you – other artists, other artwork that you see, the environment you live in, the environment you work in, your mood, your past. Everything goes into work.
He wants people to look at his art, but he doesn’t think about how people should look at his paintings while he is working in his studio.
âI work alone in the studio,â he said. âBasically I’m the one who needs to be somehow entertained by the paintings. I’m the one who’s stuck there doing the paintings. So if it’s exciting for me and interesting for me, I just keep going.
This need to remain enthusiastic about one’s work is a motivation to remain open to different approaches to artistic creation.
âNinety percent of the time I’m the one working alone in the studio, and I have to stay interested,â he said. “So I keep pushing the paintings as far as they can go and when I kind of feel like I’ve said what I can say it just gets boring and then I kind of go to tear it up.” plan and see what I can come up with.
He describes his creative process as positive because he creates something and then offers it for people to experience it.
âThe fun part of painting is trying new things and coming up with new things,â he said. “It’s like looking for the surprise and it’s about looking for the surprise for yourself, and if you’re surprised, I hope other people who watch the work get that kind of pleasure.”
This Jonathan Forrest exhibition will be on view at the Swift Current Art Gallery until October 30. Admission is free and the gallery’s opening hours are Monday to Wednesday from noon to 5 p.m., Thursday from noon to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.