Artist-in-residence shares fine points

by Emily Snider | 11/24/99 6:00am

Speaking with artist-in-residence Andrew Forge at Rosey's Cafe Sunday evening, his gentle British accent sailed through stories and ideas with great attention to matching the meaning of words with the meaning of his thoughts.

Earlier this term, Forge gave a lecture in the Loew auditorium which eloquently addressed some of his chief concerns with that "irreplacable art form" -- painting. It was a lecture one is grateful to have heard, being both thoughtful and thought-provoking, consistent with the artist's manner of conversation.

It is important to emphasize Forge's way of speaking because it is full of the decisive qualities found in his paintings which are currently showing in the Jaffe-Friede Gallery.

By the time he was twelve, Forge was sure that he wanted to be a painter. It took a very long time, however, to discover what kind of painter.

"Any artist struggles to find out what kind of artist they are and this finding out requires desperate experimentation," Forge said.

For years Forge painted figurative paintings, battling all the while with the problem of scale. It was a sort of crisis fueled by an anxiety about where the drive of the artist's will belonged.

"A lot of artists have an omnipotent sense of power," he explained. "You can see it in their work. It's a kind of creative aggression.

"Some artists have incredible faith in their own subjectivity. I don't have any such faith because I'm always interested in turning things over to the other side. I respond to things with a 'yes, but...why wouldn't the other side work as well?'"

This crisis of scale and subjectivity led Forge to a long period of frustration. And he was deriving little satisfaction from the ongoing argument between the theories of abstract and figurative art taking place in post-war England.

"That early Utopian yearning in early abstract painting wore out in the 1940s. And it became a rather boring parochial argument about what a painting should look like," Forge noted.

During the '50s, Forge became enthralled with the work of the Abstract Expressionists. Abstract Expressionism opened up new emotional and metaphysical possibilities in abstract art which weren't being discussed in England.

"It was like a breath of fresh air--fresh life," he said. "I was enormously enthusiastic about American paintings--the works of DeKooning, Pollock, Rothko. It was like discovering painting all over again."

Forge first visited America in 1963, and although this American exposure had little direct effect on his work, it marked a transition in the spirit of his approach.

"I had run into a brick wall with my own painting and I was going round and round in circles. I couldn't resolve anything and was entirely frustrated. But the art going on in America showed me, in a sense, that one is free.

"I felt like I was ready to throw everything out the window. I was totally despairing. One day I grabbed the biggest canvas and the smallest brush and fiercely placed a dot in the middle of the canvas BANG! like a gun. And the dot had its own size ... It was the realest thing I had ever done.

"I didn't know where it was going to lead, I just kept putting more dots on. It was like a discussion between equals -- a discovery of how to talk to the painting -- to coax it, suggest to it, make love to it. I was no longer bullying the canvas."

With a decision to relinquish creative omnipotence and will to the reality of the dots--their objective size and uniformity, Forge was, at last, beginning to discover a kind of freedom in his work.

"Once I started with dots, I could put questions to myself about the painting that I could definitely answer with a 'yes' or 'no.' Do I like it? Don't I like it? And then I could move on, progress with the painting."

With this new freedom of progression, the language of the dot, Forge was able to get closer to the problem of wholeness -- that problem which arises once the first dot or line of color breaks the white expanse of the canvas. It is this "building and reparation" which he considers the real work of the painter -- the attempt to make whole again.

Forge's works in the Jaffe-Friede are testimony to that wholeness -- "a wholeness that stands for more than the mere canvas but for the painter's sense of life, life mended."

Andrew Forge's exhibit will be up through December 5.