“The paintings in ‘HARD SEASONS’ are primarily about displacement: displacement of people, animals and the land itself. The photographs reference climate change in categories that are familiar to our region: fire, flood and drought. These pictures are meant to be allegories, fiction that is just honest enough.” – Chuck Forsman
Far in advance of the dialogue on climate change and questions of land use, celebrated Colorado artist Chuck Forsman has been exploring compelling environmental themes within his highly accomplished work for more than four decades. Long recognized as a masterful painter, Forsman first captured national attention for his approach in the 1970s as he adeptly challenged art history’s pristine landscape ideal by including the signs of human encroachment in the form of road cuts or quarries. Forsman’s dedication to both truthful topics and his medium, led the artist to also embrace and acknowledge the camera lens as a distinctive tool in service of his overall artistic vision and environmentalist stance. Within Forsman’s current exhibition, “HARD SEASONS,” the artist presents two simultaneous complimentary bodies of work about the American West; his signature large scale, shaped paintings of dramatic and surreal landforms, both inhabited or forgotten; and a parallel photography series titled HARD SEASONS: Fire, Flood and Drought, which offers a range of large and smaller scale potent images in color and black and white – all prompted by the recent calamitous weather events in the West.
Upon entering the gallery, the photographic works of Fire, Flood and Drought alert the viewer to a common universal understanding, that Nature is a humbling force. Grouped in kind, one poetic yet pointed Fire image tells the tale of a disaster impacting a once dense, yet inhabited woodland – now found charred in the aftermath, with a distant bright white kitchen stove seen intact, as it stands in eerie contrast. For Flood the power lies in the velocity and depth of water moved – as conveyed in a stark black and white photograph of a motorcycle found wrapped around an obstructing tree - its metal malleable, and its rider long gone. Since Forsman identifies and connects with his subjects directly, the motorcycle takes on a personal role; a symbol of freedom for the artist as he rode to countless destinations during his earliest field studies. This deeply-felt understanding of place reveals a sensitivity beyond the camera lens.
As further connection, the shared, potent imagery of Forsman's six large and medium scale shaped paintings can be seen just past his dedicated photography space. The artist's decision long ago to periodically shape the contours of his painted works are prompted by the dynamics of each composition and a sense of the unconventional view. Even as a truth-teller, Forsman has never embraced an overt photo-realistic style in his work, but feels instead an empathy toward his surroundings and a kinship with allegory to symbolically speak within his surreal worlds.
In the painting, Give Us This Day, the figures of a singular nuclear family are seen to make their way across a treeless, desert-colored landscape of unique natural forms surrounded by mountains. By using a key phrase from the Lord’s Prayer as the title, Forsman invokes a reverence for the family, the land and each person’s inherent opportunity to partake of its open spaces equally and freely. The notion of freedom is synonymous in the West with its vast frontiers that are now threatened by invading industries, over-development and the current political winds. In another large work, titled Strange Land, a serpentine two-lane highway makes its mark at the foreground of a vast timeless western blue-skied landscape with its dominant, recognizable and surreal rounded rock and cliff formations. On route to their destination within the grand view, is a small blue truck carrying several individuals exposed to the elements in the open bed – prompting the timely political question for the viewer as to whether they are immigrant workers and if so, are they coming or going.
Whether it’s the landscape itself, a figurative element, a bird flying overhead or the presence of an animal as witness, the compelling and poignant narratives told with lavish brushwork and confident lens invites the viewer in for a closer look. Responsive to the demands of his sensitive and challenging subjects, Forsman’s undeniably masterful compositions and paint-handling prevails. His uncommon palette, from rich or unexpected earthly hues with painted passages glowing in lavender, all enable the viewer to stand in the moment to simultaneously absorb both the truth of loss while seeing the heroic landscape that surrounds. Over the decades, it is this same generous quality and poetic connection found in all of Chuck Forsman’s work that has allowed the artist to endure and to stand today as a true voice for Nature in the West.
Chuck Forsman has a B.A. from University of California, Davis, an M.F.A. from University of California, Davis and studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, Skowhegan, Minnesota. The paintings and photographs of Chuck Forsman are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Wichita Art Museum, Knoxville Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Yellowstone Art Museum and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historic Center, among others. A two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Forsman’s work has been exhibited in venerable institutions including the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. A former professor of Fine Art at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Forsman is the author of Western Rider: Views from a Car Window, Arrested Rivers and Along the Buddha’s River co-created with his daughter, Shannon Forsman. His most recent publication is Walking Magpie: On and Off the Leash.