That Felicia Forte is a vocational artist is clear from the work pictured here. A dedicated painter whose greatest strengths are courage and intuition. From a discerning knowledge base, the manipulation of both hue and paint produces enchanting ebbs and flows of colour and form.
There are many facets of Forte’s practice and craft as a painter that impel exploration which include, technical, conceptual, and psychological qualities. Self evidently these qualities are found throughout (in some form) and are contiguous with a realisation by the artist of the role vulnerability plays in her work.
In 2017 Forte took up a residency at Redbull House of Art in Detroit.
Feeling ambitious for results from the beginning, a private decision was made to paint large canvasses over the three month period.
Whilst painting 12 hour days during that time, 24 paintings emerged. It was from this pressured environment that Premonition appeared.
I was meant to paint it, because it was easy all the way through. (1)
However, the work that won 2nd prize in the UK’s BP Portrait Award in 2018 Time Traveller, Matthew Napping emerged as the culmination and high point of the residency. And Red Light 1 & 2 were ruminations on the culmination!
Vulnerability is a difficult concept to pin down absolutely, and doubtlessly it will, in varying degrees, define almost everyone at some point in their lives.
Yet, it is possible to follow the evidence of that quality in these works because vulnerability links ideas like fear and insecurity, while taking risks could be the flip-side to vulnerability. In a sense positive and negative forces stretching creative sensibilities along a continuum. Risk-taking from a cultivated wide-ranging base such as Forte is possessed of, signifies following your gut instinct in a direction that is all your own, as well as, into both failure and success. And clearly in the case of Time Traveller – success.
It was a red lightbulb in the lamp. We’d run out of normal light bulbs a while before and I liked what the red light was doing to the scene in front of me.
Conversely, if the artist occupied a position of invulnerability the implication is to ‘safety and security’, to a formulaic mindset without risk. A situation in which the creator has, potentially, ceased to extend or challenge themselves creatively – technically or conceptually.
The notion of taking risks encompasses experimentation; the fact that Time Traveller, Matthew Napping was runner up in the BP awards, on one hand (the painting is the antithesis of formulaic), and the anomalies the viewer observes in the painting, on the other, suggest both the taking of risks and experimentation.
The subtle transitioning of hue through the range and the depth of colour distinctions is so fine that the full realisation of that level of accomplished manipulation is felt at an emotional level.
The ambiguity inherent in the visual aesthetics provides part of the beguiling mystery underlying these works.
Irrespective, the colours are luminous and rhapsodic: we are witness to a colour virtuoso whose capability is imbued with a certain intuitive eccentricity.
Having questioned Forte about underlying motivations in her work, the following came back:
Ideas about what you want to paint based on…excitement, a childish joy, your gut instinct and something that enlivens you, something that ‘makes your eyes sparkle’, then – ‘that’s a good idea’. (2)
The study of the unique painterly qualities reveals Forte’s incomparable technical mastery and the wafting beauty of the work. And with that comes a recognition that only relentless hard work and the taking of risks from an intuitive base can produce this degree of sensuality with paint.
To the skilled artist, the ‘colour spectrum’ is infinite’, allowing for the stunning contradictions here of ‘flat depth’ with a certain ‘solid malleability’.
In Red Light No 2, for example, that contradiction appears as a ‘tonal’ and gestural ‘shifting of the object within the plane’, or shadowing in transition.
This captivating anomaly recalls Daniel Maidman’s comment on Forte’s work in the HuffPost:
They will be informed by their knowledge but not defined by it. They will not seek a transparent or elevated epistemology but instead will work to express a personal epistemology, deformed as it is by obsessions, tics, and emotions.
In accordance with the visceral lusciousness of ‘colour texture’ is the dissolution of objects: as if ephemera transforming into other realities whilst time unfolds.
Mark making is all intuitive – none of it is preconceived…I find the brushstrokes ‘one at a time’ – like walking along a road and picking stuff up ‘as I go’. (3)
Following sustained scrutiny, the Red Light works inspire an emotional reaction because they not only emanate sensuality in both colour and colour diffusion but equivocal states of representation. These qualities imbue the works with complex threads of appreciation.
Aspects of Forte’s approach bring to mind two great colourists’s from the 20th century: Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler. Both formed part of the art world’s avant garde in New York from the 1950’s through to the 1970’s in particular. The way these artists employ colour and create depth suggests similarities to the way colour, plane and depth are articulated in the Red Light works.
Variations in saturation and tone as well as hue evoke an elusive yet almost palpable realm of shallow space. Color, structure, and space combine to create a unique presence.
The above quote might have been written for TimeTraveller and the Red Light works generally.
The viewer is at once coaxed by the artist’s unintelligable method and a priviledged witness to the presence of visual indeterminancy and the translucent palette enhancing the oscillation of object, time and space.
The shimmering stratum of tone and hue found in Traveller and the Red Light works drive the viewer to contemplate the works on the basis of mesmerising colour and the fluid flow of paint alone.
As mentioned, there are many areas in these paintings worthy of close inspection, and all are beautiful in their own right. This makes them more compelling because it speaks to a mind dedicated to a comprehensive approach – all parts of the image must work. Drawing from a bottomless archive, the artist converges interests, knowledge and decisions in a single work: both in the minutiae as well as in the projection of the ‘big picture’.
Although Forte is painting what is in front of her, the objects appear disembodied; as if drifting in and out of the plane’s reality. A quirk aided, in this instance, by the presence of the red light bulb on the right, and the ‘cool light’ coming in from a window on the left. A situation revealing a mass of creative possibilities, conspiculously amplified by a high chroma palette and light value pigments with a neon quality.
The colours bleed from one object to-the-other, making them appear at once tangible yet ethereal.
Reiterating, the combined effect brings psychological factors and qualities into play: qualities that exceed the limitations of conventional ‘representational’ art.
Rothko’s works are legendary for their ability to submerge the viewer in fields of colour so dense as to produce a heightened state of meditative subjectivity. It helps us understand the enigmatic qualities of the Red Light works by recourse to the following phrase given to Rothko’s work.
…radiant color in dynamic tension…
Felicia Forte said in an email that ‘her job is to paint, learn, explore and be happy’ (4). With that in mind she is not interested in art for art’s sake but in the exploration of paint as a medium on a two dimensional surface. Meanwhile, happily ignoring where her art ‘belongs’ in the greater scheme of art: this is important because it reveals the true sentiment underlying this group:
I painted to share my life, a vulnerable moment, to connect to people. (5)
Thank you for this thoughtful review of my work. I am so honored.
Felicia Forte additional information:
Felicia Forte studied at the California Art Institute and The Art Students League of New York in 2006. Her work has been widely shown in USA exhibitions. In addition to the Redbull Residency in Detroit, Forte was Artist-in-Residence at de Young Museum of Fine Art San Francisco; Self-Portrait, Melting Point was also chosen for the BP Portrait Award 2015 exhibition.
Quotes by the artist:
- Audio recording 02/08/202
- Email from the artist 16/04/2020