Private View: Wednesday 13 July, 6:30- 9pm
London (London Bridge)
Glinting with gold and rendered in vivid hues of red, green, brown and white, heavily textured forms shift between figuration and abstraction, simultaneously captivating and eluding the gaze. These works are part of an arresting new body of work by Los Angeles-based artist Forrest Kirk whose painting practice incorporates a wide range of media to create bold sculptural surfaces. Over the last decade, Forrest has developed a highly unique visual language that emerges through a layered process encompassing research, material experimentation and an intrinsic understanding of colour, texture and form. His first solo exhibition at Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery, London, playfully entitled Temple Run, takes the city’s colonial history as its departing point, examining ongoing debates around stolen artefacts that continue to reside in museum collections across the UKwhile also speaking to contemporary issues around conflict and cultural identity.
For Forrest, the artistic process typically begins with research into the geographical location where the work will be exhibited. For this show, he was particularly drawn to the history of trade in London, once known as the ‘centre of the world’, and how this glorified past is entangled not only with war but also the pilfering of cultural property from Africa and other ancient civilisations. In the last few years, The British Museum in particular has faced criticism for exhibiting stolen artefacts. The title of the exhibition, named after the video game Temple Run –which begins with the character grabbing an object from a temple and being chased by the creatures of the jungle – not only makes reference to this history, but also, more crucially, to our cultural acceptance of it. In a similar way, the flat desert landscape that serves as the backdrop to each painting evokes the graphical game aesthetic while also drawing our attention to the way in which we have historically normalised, or even trivialised the looting of culture.
This is also reflected in the painting process itself, which begins with the artist priming the canvas with black gesso. ‘For me, it’s about starting with infinite possibilities. Everything starts from darkness. From black, any colour can be created,’ says Forrest. He then lays the canvas onto the floor and makes instinctive sweeping marks that serve an almost ritualistic purpose in the sense that they prepare the artist for the creation of the work. For this particular series, he decided to take this process one step further by painting over each canvas with horizontal stripes of red, black and green, the colours of the Pan-African flag that was designed to represent the African diaspora and symbolise freedom. This not only gives the work a deeply personal resonance, but also provides a base colour palette and a sense of depth. The artist then applied further layers of paint, mixing the colours with gorilla glue in the alla prima (wet-on-wet) technique to create stuttering, swirling marks and thick areas of impasto. Forrest likens this period of painting to ‘play’ in the sense that it is both instinctive and highly physical. He uses brillo pads, sandpaper and a knife to scratch, push and pull at the surface, to simultaneously reveal and obscure the layers beneath.
It’s only once he sits the canvas upright against a wall that he begins to think about the intention of the work and starts to carve out a form by adding the background and subtracting what’s already there. In a way, the process of flattening the complexity of colour and mark-making with the block colour background reflects the simplification of historical narratives while the figures and forms at the forefront have a strikingly dynamic presence. While some evoke the outline of warriors seemingly clutching spear-like objects others remain more abstract. ‘For me, this show is all about the texture,’ says Forrest. ‘The picture is secondary.’ Indeed, at times, the image that we initially glimpse turns out to be illusory. In many of the paintings, for example, there appears to be a single white cloud floating in the slate grey sky but closer examination reveals this to be the outline of an alien spaceship. This not only adds a sense of playfulness to the composition, but also draws attention to how our perception is sometimes skewed by expectation. In other words, we see what we want to see, or more often, what we have been taught.
While some of the works do feature more concrete, recognisable images from Forrest’s lexicon, such as the bomb in Timing, we find ourselves, as viewers, compelled towards the surface where any shadow of a form or figure gives way to the physical gestures of mark making, the rich swirl of colours, the metallic glint of gold. In this sense, the artist invites us to embrace a more liberated viewing experience, freed from the constraints or expectations of representation, in which we are able to more deeply contemplate the way in which we consume and understand cultural and visual histories.