Jonathan Forrest

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"Keep on Keeping on"
Michael Gibson Gallery, London, ON
May 1 - 30, 2020
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Artist Statement:

The paintings in this show were all finished before the pandemic hit North America’s consciousness. News of the virus was spreading but the reality of it hadn’t hit our doorstep. For various personal reasons the second week in March was when the virus became real for us. Worry over family members abroad, the impending financial crisis, our personal financial situation, getting food & supplies and personal safety suddenly became all consuming. Painting stopped, anxiety and stress skyrocketed. We did a lot of walking. It’s taken a month to help make sure our immediate circle is safe for the time being and to start to come to terms with the new reality.

I am certainly not able to respond to this world crisis through painting at this point. Run for shelter, get food, make sure everyone is safe - that’s been my impulse - maybe in the months or years to come some authentic response will emerge. For me, now is too soon to digest and interpret the situation.

So if the paintings have nothing to do with the world’s present trauma why show them now? Well I’m conflicted on this. Many reasons I suppose. I made a commitment to Michael and for better or worse I try to do what I say I’ll do. The show must go on and all that. Then there’s a lot of talk in the current climate about supporting businesses - particularly small businesses - help keep them stay in business. People don’t necessarily think of private galleries in this way but they are an essential part of the art-world ecosystem. And for that matter let’s not forget about the artists - a portion of whom are self employed with no other income except sales. The work in this show was finished and ready to go - so in the spirit of sharing why not send them out into the world for potential enjoyment by anyone who is interested.

Then there’s the paintings themselves and what they have to offer. They were all finished between December 2019 and early March 2020. But most of them were started months before, in the summer of 2019. Lately the paintings have needed a long gestation period. My habit has been to scrape or pull thin layers of paint across a canvas, repeating the process until something emerges. There is an initial setup of the process with some givens or conventions. The size of canvas, the vertical direction of the pull, the all-over image. Playing off this structure is the chaos. How the paint reacts, how each layer reacts to what’s gone down before. Often a pull of paint takes half an hour and my attitude is ideally workmanlike. It’s a curious suspension of will or ego. The best pulls are done matter-of-fact, the worst are when I delude myself into trying some artful grand gesture. But, if I’ve been open to the possibility, at a certain point the painting jumps from being just materials into art. Every layer has the potential in that half hour to cross the threshold, to transform the materials into art. Maybe this is the half hour it makes the jump. Maybe it’s a month of half hours before it happens. It involves accepting the unknown, accepting failure, and having faith in the knowledge that with perseverance, work, and a sustained deep connection, the effort will pay off. A responsive approach to the specific evolution of each painting.

Describing my painting in terms of process can offer a glimpse of what I physically do in the studio on a day to day basis. But there are other sides to painting equally as important. One aspect I enjoy is how a regular painting practice incorporates, almost like a diary, the minutiae of random daily life. As I have gotten older I have welcomed this ephemeral day to day wellspring. Going for walks, seeing the churning ocean, a pattern on the sidewalk, the shape of a house chimney, the greyness of a November sea, vibrant sunset colours, the afternoon light. Even in my quiet, removed island life there’s no shortage of visual nudges that somehow become embedded in the paintings.

It’s hard for me to look at one of my pieces without seeing the long and circuitous conversations I’ve been having with painting’s rich history. The works I’ve seen, the artists I’ve known, the artists I’ve studied, and my own painting journey. The list of painters I talk to in my mind, and on the canvas, goes on and on but always leads back to Matisse’s work from around the First World War (“The Piano Lesson”, “View of Notre Dame”).

There is that odd moment where you get a glimpse at a larger meaning. A rare but sustaining feeling. Sensing an interconnectedness where the depth of painting is revealed. A euphoria that carries over into day to day life. It’s a surprise gift that catches me off-guard, and it’s a feeling that came over me like a wave in late December as these works were coming to fruition.

An aesthetic experience can be a mental and emotional respite from trauma and anxiety. Almost like meditation it can offer a way of softening the harshness of daily life. My experience with living with paintings (both my own work and work by others) is that this visual pleasure helps me. The intuitive and intelligent journey the artist went on is enriching to the viewer, gives a break from the daily grind, and offers a release from anxiety. On a certain level painting is a real concrete “thing” made from intuitive reactions to inert material. Taking the unknown and uncertainty and, through an artistic alchemy, turning it into a solid real true object. I find that particularly comforting in these uncertain times.

Jonathan Forrest
April 15, 2020







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