Allen Forrest, Painter, British Columbia, Canada
Editor notes by Michael Lee Johnson, poet, editor: I love to introduce you to a wonder mind, a great painter, photographer, Allen Forrest now residing in British Columbia, Canada. I also live in exile in Canada for 10 years a result of the Vietnam War. I normally focus interviews on poets, but with miniscule imaginations, life enlarges. It includes fiction writers, artist, painters, and photographers. We both admire Charles Bukowski. For you not familiar with this drunken wonderful down to earth poet, I suggest Blue Bird: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmWZOsVtqR0. We also experienced the loss of a wonderful parent, late in life, not perfect but special. We also understand do not let anyone steal your joy or tell you "you are not a painter; or a phony poet. Let legacy define who I am or who I am not for both Michael Lee Johnson and Allen Forrest. I might add that Allen has created two covers for my up coming chapbooks.
INTERVIEW WITH ALLEN FORREST, GRAPHIC ARTIST, PAINTER in Vancouver, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Michael Lee Johnson: Tell us about yourself-where you are from, education or lack of, family roots, some background.
Allen Forrest : I was born in Vancouver, B.C. Canada, but I grew up in the Seattle, WA area. My family tree originally comes from England and Germany. I was educated in both the United States and Canada. I returned to college in mid-life to retrain for an emerging industry: digital media and design.
MLJ: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?
AF: I was under-going Reichian Therapy (also referred to as Orgone Therapy, Orgonomic Therapy, or Orgonomy, http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-reichian-therapy.htm) and I began thinking about fine art a lot, until it became a focus and my desire to create it. I began drawing and taking art classes at the local Continuing Education College, but I am mostly self-taught.
MLJ: How long have you been painting?
AF: I have been painting since 2007, for about 8 years. My style continues to evolve as I tackle more subjects and ideas. My favorite mediums are oil paint, ink, oil pastel, and gouache.
MLJ: Have you always wanted to be a published artist?
AF: I did not think of it in terms of being published, more in selling paintings or drawings I created.
Since moving to Canada to help take care of my father (90 years old) I do not have the same opportunities that I did in Seattle, WA, for displaying and selling my art. Seattle is a great town for an independent artist. Every week many of the cafes and restaurants advertise for new artists to display their work. Most do not take a commission; they realize that displaying the art is good business for both them and the artist. Many people come in not just get a get coffee or a meal, but also to see what is on display and discuss the work with their friends. Seattle is a great artist environment. I sold many paintings there and exhibited my work in many venues. In Vancouver, the opportunities are not the same. Some of the café and restaurant owners want to charge artists to display their work. I do not want to pay to show. Other places in Vancouver I have submitted to have not responded. Hopefully this situation will change. Rather than wait, I have shifted my art focus from larger oil paintings to smaller works, photograph them and make submissions to Literary Journals. This has worked out well. I have been published in many magazines, some online and others in print. I just received my contributor's copies from Tidal Basin Review the other day—a work of art in itself, the printed copy is gorgeous in color and design. To see your work displayed so well is a great feeling. The magazine Under The Gum Tree also did a beautiful job displaying my work. It really hits you, when you see your paintings and drawings given such a fine color presentation.
MLJ: When do you paint/draw? When do you not?
AF: I like to work at painting during the day; the light is better-generally mid-mornings or mid-afternoons. I usually get in a drawing session for works on paper in the evening. When I began painting, I gradually put in more and more time each day to learn how to get the look I was after. Now that I have worked out an approach to different mediums, I do not need as much time to work. I like to create in concentrated session's quality not quantity. I try not to paint or draw when I am mentally tired.
MLJ: What resources online (include links and websites) help you most as an artist? What resources who you suggest for beginning artists?
AF: I like Google's Picasa (http://picasa.google.com/) for displaying my work, and then I link those different sideshows of series collections to my art blog (http://art-grafiken.blogspot.ca). I also like to post updates to my Twitter@artgrafiken and LinkedIn account. Fine Art America (http://fineartamerica.com/) is well known. You can get a free account and post some examples of your work there. The important thing is to keep at it, pace yourself, and promote your work and its publications as they come along. Just keep at it. You never know where it will lead.
MLJ: Is being an artist/artist anything like you imagined it would be?
AF: In a way, it is like any other job—you have to go to work everyday. I do not know what I imagined being an artist would be like because I focus on creating the work than being an artist. Keep your mind on your work, forget about trying to emulate some concept you have of what an artist should look or act like. I know I am very different from some of the old school artists. I can tell by what they say during interviews. Though I like their work very much, I think some have blinders on. They are too much in the past in their thinking. To be viable and alive an artist must adapt to the changing world while creating. If you do not adapt to new opportunities that present themselves, you will stagnate and be less than you could be.
MLJ: Have you figured out a way of making money as an artist?
AF: Online buyers contact me (I just sold a portrait of writer Raymond Carver to a viewer at one of my websites.) I also do commission pieces: paintings or drawings, my prices are very reasonable at a basic graphic designer's pay rate. Sometimes a magazine or book publisher offers a fee for the use of one of my paintings in image form, as Horizons Magazine did last fall and for EAB Publishing and Pure Slush I did an original works for their book covers.
MLJ: What inspires you to paint and do you remember the exact moment you knew you wanted to be an artist?
AF: Private feelings and ideas inspire me to want to express them on the canvas. I like to work from a model, to interpret that model in my way. Subject matter changes from figurative to landscape, back and forth, depending on my mood and interest at the time, sometimes on location, sometimes from photographs. The inspiration comes through a need to express; a strong needs to create something. The push comes from within. I desire to express my view of something. That something is partly unknown. Through art, I try to discover and express that unknown. When I start a new piece, I do not want to know what it will look like in advance. I do not have a clear vision of the finished painting, just a hint of an interesting idea based on my view of the model. So I want to be surprised in the end. So when my work surprises me that is a good sign. I had known deep down my whole life I wanted to be an artist, but a little voice in my head would say, “You could never do that.” Reichian Therapy helped me over power that little voice and replace it with a big voice that said, “you WANT to do this, so go ahead and do it.”
MLJ: Who are notable artists who have influenced your painting?
AF: Some of my favorites influences are: Ben Shahn, Terry St. John, William Steig, The Society of Six, particularly: Seldon Gile, August Gay, Bernard von Eichman, The Group of Seven, Thom Thompson, Romare Bearden, Robert Crumb, Judy Molyneux, Richard Diebenkorn, Vincent van Gogh, David Park, Ursula O'Farrell, Francis Bacon, Jacob Lawrence, Claude Monet, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Rembrandt, August Macke, Pablo Picasso, Franz Kline, Alexej Jawlensky, Oskar Kokoschka, Mark Rothko, Lyonel Feininger...and many, many more.
MLJ: Do you follow a strict painting schedule or just paint when the spirit hits you?
AF: Not a strict schedule, but I try to work each day and depending on how much time I have, some days for 2-3 hours, others just an hour. Then there are all the other art related duties: photographing the pieces, working with them on the computer in a graphics program to create the web or print ready images for magazines or uploading to my websites for display. Email, email, and more email: submissions, promotions, communications, and of course filling out interviews like these. It all takes time and you do what you can each day and get as much done as is reasonably possible.
MLJ: What stimulates or motivates you to paint? Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
AF: As I said earlier, it is a need from deep inside. I feel it in my gut, an urging to paint or draw, to create a piece of art through my emotional interpretation of a subject/model. I find inspiration from everyday things or world events or the landscape around me, perhaps an image online has caught my attention. I may do a stylized drawing of a musician or politician or –you name it.
MLJ: What type of art do you like to imitate?
AF: I am not after imitation. I do what I call my revisited series. These are my interpretations of other artists work. I will reconstruct by drawing or painting another artist's work. This reconstruction could be extreme or subtle, but the idea is to re-interpret, not imitate. Many other artists have done this as well as a way of paying homage to great predecessors and as a challenging exercise study.
MLJ: Can you tell me what tools, resources, or how you are working to grow as an artist?
AF: I have an excellent collect of art reference books that I pour over daily. These could be manuals or collections of other artists work. I used to hunt for good book deals on Amazon, and by now have a good library collected. If I want more books, the city library is not far away. As wonderful, the internet is there is a lot to find in old books, a treasure trove of information, imagery, and inspiration.
German Expressionism Revisited
Bay Area Figurative Revisited
Romare Bearden Revisited
Francis Bacon Revisited
MLJ: If you had to choose, what would you say are the two best pieces you have ever created to this date?
I am a tough critic of my work. I always see where I did not take it far enough, or failed to create something I was after. Then again, I can be the worst judge of my work, and have learned to leave things alone sometimes. To step back and say--wait a minute, let us leave that mistake there, it may be more interesting in the end. Sometimes you get so close to a painting that you cannot see it. You cannot see what is happening in the interplay of color and light and form. Sometimes it may take a year or two before I can look at a particular painting, one that I was uncertain of, even felt I had missed it completely or gone in the wrong direction, but now, after the passage of time, I say to myself "I wish I could paint more like this one!" Time usually helps you see things better in your work. What two pieces I would choose might be very different from what others might. So instead, I will mention two that art aficionados have liked very much and I like. I did hit good marks when I painted: CA Hwy No. 1, Stinson Beach and the other would be Bill Evans Alone.
CA Hwy No. 1, Stinson Beach
Bill Evans Alone
MLJ: What is your opinion on self exhibiting; being a fringe artist in cafes and restaurants? How do you feel about traditional exhibiting in museums and galleries?
AF: I say exhibit wherever you can. Being a fringe artist does have advantages, you are freelance and independent, meaning you do not have to wait for a representative's permission to work on a project, since they would be involved in the commission or lack thereof. Certainly having a good agent is central to getting good opportunities, but many good artists do not have representation, perhaps some of the best do not, art history can certainly provide examples of this. Exhibiting in a gallery or museum can elevate your standing as an artist, but it is not a guarantee of success in earning a living.
MLJ: Do you have any parting words for our readers; any words of wisdom to share?
AF: Do not let anybody else decide whether you have talent or not. You decide for yourself. Ask the question: do I have talent as an artist? The answer? What do you want it to be? Yes or no? That is the answer. You decide, do not let anyone else make that decision for you. Anyone can do great work, but few want to. That is the crux of it. You have to WANT it. You have to be a bulldog and keep pulling at that leash holding you back day after day until it snaps and you are free. Even when you are down and tired, do not stop creating keep going. On those days when you have no time to work at your art, try to fit in a little. As writer Charles Bukowski used to say, keep the ember alive; do not let it go out. Some days I can only get one little drawing done, it is not much, but the ember is still glowing and waiting for a time when it will explode into a creative fire.
MLJ: By what methods or sources are you trying to market your works?
Art website: http://allen-forrest.fineartamerica.com
Twitter account: https://twitter.com/artgrafiken
Cover Art-- http://art-grafiken.blogspot.ca/2014/06/art-on-cover.html
Art between the covers-- http://art-grafiken.blogspot.ca/2014/04/art-between-covers.html
Art in Series-- http://art-grafiken.blogspot.ca/2010/01/art-in-series.html
MLJ: We have talked about your professional painting career, but not about how your personal life reflects your painting. Tell us something about you personally, that the world can see in your painting.
AF: When I am painting my personal feelings and emotions go into the canvas. The struggle to capture something is hard work and takes a type of detached intense concentration. There is so much emotional energy going into the paint that it becomes--alive, a living creation. My personal life is there on the canvas for all to see. In revealing me to the viewer, they experience their own revelations. People see art through their life experience. As long as I give feeling to the work, the viewer will give theirs.
MLJ: Is there anything else you want to talk about that has not already been asked?
AF: Yes, spirituality in painting. Since my work is influenced by my emotions and why I call myself an expressionist, I have had several supernatural experiences with my paintings; one of my mother's painting and another painting of a woman from my youth. These paintings reached out to me during crucial moments in their lives with an energy that came right out of the paint to get my attention. In my mother's painting, it was a bright light coming from her eyes. This happened twice before she passed away. You do not imagination this is happening, it is happening and your life stops for that moment. You realize the infinite light of spirit has touched you.
Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, Illinois. Mr. Johnson published in more than 1037 publications, his poems have appeared in 37 countries, he edits, publishes 10 different poetry sites. Michael Lee Johnson, Itasca, IL, nominated for 2 Pushcart Prize awards for poetry 2015/1 Best of the Net 2016/and 2 Best of the Net 2017. He also has 169 poetry videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/poetrymanusa/videos. He is the editor-in-chief of the anthology, Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1530456762 and editor-in-chief of a second poetry anthology, Dandelion in a Vase of Roses which is available here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1545352089. Michael is also editor-in-chief of Warriors with Wings: the Best in Contemporary Poetry, a smaller anthology available now: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1722130717