whitehot | February 2008, Richard Forster in conversation with Becky Hunter
Richard Forster is an artist living and working in north east England. In 2006 he was selected for a Jerwood Artists Platform hosted by Cell Project Space in London. Over the past two years his work has been included in private collections in the UK, and and in public collections including the Government Art Collection, Rhode Island School of Design and the New Art Gallery, Walsall. Most recently his work has been seen in Edinburgh as part of the Ingleby Gallery’s tenth anniversary programme, alongside that of Richard Artschwager.
BH Was the exhibition at the Ingleby Gallery a response to Richard Artschwager’s work? How did the pairing come about?
RF The brief from them was broad in that an invited artist could select another artist, object, book or piece of music to, sort of, jam with. I asked for Artschwager because I felt familiar with his practice or what I’d seen of it and because his project runs through drawing, painting and sculpture. This, I think, is where I’m at with my work at the moment… this thing between drawing, painting, sculpture.
BH Was your trip to New York to do research for this? Or just a trip?
RF I’d never been to New York before, I was just wanting to experience the place.
BH I read the press release from the show which suggested you had a image of Times Square that became a drawing?
RF I found New York incredible…a place like no other. The hotel in which I was staying was only a five minute walk from Times Square so I found myself walking through or past it every day. I knew I was going to take a photograph of it at some point and that arrived about 4-5 days in. I came to the exact shot, in many ways it was like a lot of my drawings…a figure against architecture-type image. There is a lot of complexity at street level in NY, in the relationship between the outside and inside of buildings …similar perspectival feel across all the streets, a dense grid. My image was very flat, a flattened picture plane as best I could using billboard architecture…no long vistas.
BH Relating to that particular city environment, you regard the gallery as being a quiet place, where you go to contemplate something…
RF Well, I quite like galleries in that most are found in the city and in terms of being in the city, these are places you can go for some respite from the usual urban experience. The Ingleby Gallery was a treat to work in …period details, beautifully done. It is actually their home, not that you are aware of that when you walk in, you are just aware of the domesticity of the street. I’ve done sculptural work in the past that responds to the site and the temptation here was to work with the window in the back gallery. The feeling of NY was a million miles from the feeling of this room, this quiet room in Edinburgh, so it seemed like a response to the site in counterpoint.
BH Sometimes I get so worried about art being a place you can go to escape or hide in and I wanted to ask you about it because of that quote about galleries being a quiet place. In contrast you seem to spend a lot of time looking outside, responding to things that are outside of you. Do you think art should be something of an ethical pursuit?
RF That sounds like a question…
BH I want to ask this question to artists who have kept going for a while because it must be something you think about?
RF In many ways its one of the problems in art isn’t it… It has been addressed in a lot of practice. Sometimes one kind of art can seem more relevant than another. The idea of finding a socialised content outside of purely formal solutions. I don’t think I’ve made enough sculpture, or enough sculptural shows, where you’d be able to see whether an arrangement works…where you had a very formal, self-referencing object next to an object full of outside, social references and issues. If you were to put the two together you may conclude that this was an artist who had not yet made up their mind…you could say I haven’t made up my mind really. I think that’s ok. You’ve got these questions, I can’t make up my mind, then the project is one of working it through… that’s the problem you’ve set yourself.
BH I think that’s true. I get envious of people who can focus on something within art itself but not on other matters. It seems like with you, you’re always looking around you but you are also very aware of art.
RF It’s a learning game... back in the sixties it seems a lot of people became politicised around issues like , you know… race riots in . That stuff was in the air and it had a big influence on the art being made. I was born in 1970 and was raised through the seventies on a suburban housing estate. In the 80’s I was aware of the impact of a Thatcherite politic, especially in the north east where the impact was felt across all heavy industry. I had friends whose dads worked on Teesside for, what was, British Steel. It was all very political and very social stuff. It may say more about the suburban, cushioned experience that this stuff felt second, third or fourth hand. What you are also aware of in regard to the 60’s in New York is that you had art being made by the likes of Ken Noland and Morris Louis. This was the art I was drawn towards as an undergraduate. I used to see a lot of it at the Tate, Liverpool. It seemed so decorative and frivolous… circles, chevrons, stripes. All the realism was in the context... the brick vernacular of the industrial architecture in Albert Dock.
BH Do you think the Jerwood Artists Platform was a fair reflection of your working method as it didn’t include any drawing, but only showed sculptural work as a kind of sequence across three distinct spaces ?
RF Well, first thing, my work has had quite a sporadic reception over some time now. You tend to see things as fragments over a few years, maybe in the gaps between I haven’t done a lot of shows and not many people really know of me. I do a lot of drawing, this is my backbeat. I’ve drawn in earnest since about the age of twelve and that’s’ why I still call it my bedroom art. The size of the drawings hasn’t moved beyond that A3 -A4 scale. If I’m approached to make a show in a gallery, I’ve mostly found myself wanting to respond to the site and this is where the work has moved into bigger dimensions involving painting and sculpture.
BH With the drawing, is it more the content, the subject matter that interests you?
RF I think the subject, maybe the arrangement. I have an archive of found images that I continue to add to.
BH So the image captures you and drawing it is part of a process of understanding whereby it may appear later in a sculpture?
RF There’s the activity of drawing as well. First off, it’s very direct. You don’t need a lot of preparation…just pencil and paper. The activity is, for me, a form of therapy and contemplation. The great thing about drawing is it gets me really looking at things first in a very real sense. I’m making the image mine. But you know I do a lot of different types of drawing… sketchbook stuff, line and water colour studies, pattern-making…
Circles, Squares, Triangles (therapy Room) (2004)
BH So where do you get to see the other stuff? My experience of seeing a little bit of your work in person and more on the internet, the only drawings I’ve seen are very representational ones… are there more abstract ones you don’t show?
RF Yes, I’ve always considered the task of picture-making from both ends of that line where there is hard realism at one pole and pure abstraction at the other. Then there is all the nuances of representation and all the nuances of abstraction in between. I have drawings here and I have drawings there (indicating each end) and it’s a starting point. My starting point is both ends and I try to hold onto the meanings that abstraction can carry.
BH When you are looking at work in a gallery, it’s easy to forget that behind it is a whole varied process of working out.
Richard Forster Factory Interior (2002)
RF With the task of producing a show for galleries, I’ve always been interested in the site; the phenomenology of the gallery experience has been very real to me. I should say, at this point, that I’ve made work for shows in galleries housed for example in a council flat in Stockwell… also a working-mens’ club in Hackney. The context has demanded this attention. All social stuff… The first public gallery I worked with was the NGCA in Sunderland…a very civic place. In Newcastle, I did a show in an artist-led, warehouse-type space. I’ve treated the viewing experience as this movement of yourself through a space, and as you said before, its not as though we move seamlessly from being surrounded and interacting within a social milieu into a closed off gallery vacuum. The crossover point is this form of hinterland between the two conditions. It’s one I’m really interested in as I feel it’s the truer and more real nature of the experience. It has taken me into asking questions of infrastructure as well.
BH In interpreting your work, it’s important to remember there is a working process, both in the studio and within the gallery space. Although your drawings and sculptures are highly finished, they are not simply material products…
RF That these materials may bring to mind commodity sculpture of the 80s or Pop furniture design from the 60s... or just that manufactured look for commerce in general. For me the materials I choose convey a meaning that is at work within an exhibition format. This just foregrounds the infrastructure that artists are working in, the same way that an artist may set up a temporary gallery in a council flat. In the end, I have mostly presented the work in tatty, marginalized spaces in which the manufacture works in counterpoint. Maybe we need to work through this gloss versus tatty dichotomy in material…
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief