Russell Forester Exhibition

Book Information

Russell Forester:
An Unauthorized Biography
A thirty year survey of paintings, drawings, sculpture,
and installation at Track 16 Gallery

Santa Monica, 27 January 1997 -- Track 16 Gallery is proud to present a long overdue survey of the work of Russell Forester, covering the full range of his prodigious artistic output over the last thirty years. The exhibition opens with an Artist's Reception on Saturday, March 15 from 5 - 8 PM and runs through May 24, 1997.

Throughout his varied career, Russell Forester has exhibited a Renaissance-like affinity for new ideas and experimentation. An award-winning architect renowned for stunning domestic and commercial buildings in the International Style, for the last three decades he has devoted himself full time to the creation of paintings, drawings, sculpture, and installations of staggering sensitivity and variety. The works on exhibit range from early paintings and sculpture from the 1950s and 60s to drawings and other works completed in 1996.

"If one were to identify a key theme running through all of Forester's art it would be the uneasy meeting of the public and the private," says Michael Zakian, Director of the Frederick Weissman Museum of Pepperdine University, in his essays for the catalogue accompanying the exhibition. His long career as an architect has deepened his understanding of the nature of art making as something public that envelopes a private domain. His series of geometric abstractions from the 1960s and 70s, using precise and repetitive elements that resonate architectonically, shimmer with floating blocks of color. Pulling order out of visual chaos, these paintings are tightly composed variations on a theme that achieve alarming depths through the accumulation of minuscule bits of jewel-like color. Dynamic groups coalesce, and forms seem to hover over the canvas, lyrically expanding the space beyond the painting's edge.

In the mid-1960s, Forester began creating a series of abstract ink drawings that are intense and highly disciplined. Working from one side of the paper to another, upside down, or from all four sides at once, these pen and ink drawings have a concentrated, almost obsessive quality, that play off the emotionally driven hand-drawn line against the grid-like form it ultimately defines. The lines in these drawings vary in quality from long lyric loops to small and irregular marks. Some look like thin, delicate webs, while others are covered with intricate marks that create massive over-all patterns that suggest permanence and stability. In 1969-70, Forester introduced a new format for his pen and ink drawings—the circle. "Circles are geometric but non-architectural," says Zakian. "In these drawings, Forester celebrated freedom. Working as an architectural draftsman, his line always had to do something: define a boundary wall or make the place of a window..." Forester's circular drawings undermine the ideal of pure geometry as much as they support it.

In 1978 Forester bought an industrial sewing machine to use as a drawing tool. "I was doing these little things with squiggly lines that looked a lot like threads," he explains. His desire to explore new materials and techniques was fueled by his year of study at the Chicago Institute of Design where the learned through Bauhaus ideals that new materials pose new problems that lead to new solutions. Using the tension of the machine to vary the thickness and texture of the lines, Forester creates novel compositions that weave together delicate and nuanced tapestries. He also used the machine without thread to create perforated drawings. In later works, Forester layers gauze over underpainting to add yet another patina to his compositions. The grid is softened and the colors muted by the gauze, yielding a diffused and mysterious dimension to the work.

Continuing his investigation of new materials, in the late 70s and early 1980s Forester experimented with lead and with LEDS (gallium phosphate light-emitting diodes). The use of electricity opened a new chapter in Forester's artistic life and he began producing free-standing wooden columns or prisms with surfaces articulated by LEDs or tiny neon bulbs. In addition to pieces with lights on the exterior, he also made a series of light boxes that featured illuminated interiors. The sculptures have windows that allow the viewer to peer into an interior defined by light.

While continuing to make paintings and drawings, by the mid-80s much of Forester's work centered on multi-media and electronic works, and he began to work on small, diorama-like installations. Constructed like "facades," these rooms are set pieces that portray political and other emotionally-charged themes. While some deal with current events like Tiananmen Square, urban poverty, and racism, others are poignant and at times eerie reflections on loneliness and alienation—the empty chairs and deserted stairways evoking a powerful sense of melancholy. Also on view in the exhibition are a number of large-scale multi-media works incorporating painting and sculpture, as well as lights, motors and sound, as well as electronically programmed gizmos that dazzle and confound. These later works display a healthy dose of humor that challenges the machine's dehumanizing role in the late 20th century.

The profusion of mediums and the expressive power of Forester's work is amply demonstrated in the fully illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. With an essay by Zakian and an appreciation by Alain Cohen, Professor of Film and Comparative Literature at UC San Diego, the catalogue is designed by Douglas Martin and published by Smart Art Press.