Back to News

Michael Harley Forrister: Artist Statement

Posted 29th August 2017
Watts Contemporary Gallery

by Michael Harley Forrister

This current work is anxiously grounded on fragile human emotions, capturing exclusive identities. The context within the work coincides with close personal relationships. A viewer's response can be unnerving and can spur hidden relationships to the paintings. The work indicates aspects of realism but with obscure twists and enigmatic focus.

The source images are founded through photographic shoots in self-sufficient environments. They are instant moments without warnings, capturing singular emotions that are not artificial. In these photographic situations, compositionally, the work embraces offbeat decisions, with this sense it suggests surreal qualities, even dreamlike. The photographic settings occasionally comprise a group of individuals coming together, where interaction is apparent, bouncing conversation, drama, objects and movement. However, when translating this material into painting, location is unknown. This is where the paintings stand as themselves. Although the settings are unidentified to the viewer, the dimensions of the paintings are all very similar, a great deal of the time they are the same scale which in turn suggests a timeline or congregation of the individuals when exhibited beside one another in a space. The photographs do not hold the same factual themes, they are only concepts; painting is where it must be voiced. Photography in the practice is a tool, but an essential one.

Aesthetically, the paint is applied carefully to define the human form, but not hyper-realistically. The work resonates in shortened varieties of classic portrait painting, yet some colour in attire is cautiously emphasised which stand fruitful against the muted skin tones. Recent works hold a lot of colour, but are found amongst the darkened areas. Highlighted regions are carefully selected to make the painting 'pop' then furthermore create a sense of three-dimensional illusion on the flat canvas surface. The paintings are built up in thin layers of transparent artificial and raw pigments. This brings more control in decision making within the methodical process.

The latest paintings comprise a combination of heavy indexical brush marks alongside very vigilantly blurred areas. The distorted fusion of technique announces different qualities, bringing a feel of surrealism within the normal contextual conditions. The technical practice is heavily informed by a few artists; one being German painter Gerhard Richter, looking closely at how paint functions and blended to create a realistic ambience. Additionally, Mike Silva for his softness, fluidity and simplicity in using oil paint as a medium, but also compositionally and conceptually as he captures fragments of situations to bring light to the subject, but hankers mystery of the bigger picture. This informed the current practice within the use of limited eye contact, even the presence of the eye; this intensifies the anonymous emotions of the subject within the paintings, furthermore cropping the source material to detach the awareness of setting. The representation of these methods, identities, style and current youth culture puts the practice in a determined state of contemporary painting.


Michael Harley Forrister was one of the winners of the 2017 Winsor & Newton Watts Painting Prize.