July 22
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Q&A with Resident Artist Felicia Forte

Jul 7, 2017

The search for compelling images started about five years ago when Felicia Forte started “taking pictures of everything, every day.”

“I started to recognize a paintable moment,” says Forte. “That’s kind of the idea. For me, they have to be true and they have to have a pull towards an image. Hopefully, if I’m painting something intuitively with integrity, then that will show up in the painting and other people will find some worth in it.”

Indeed, everything seems to be in its right place in Forte’s work.

Forte’s oil paintings bring an artistic depth and texture to the banality of a daily scene — succulents stuffed onto a windowsill, cigarettes snuffed out in an ashtray. There’s a distinct charm and calm that’s pulled from these simple yet beautiful moments of day-to-day life that Forte captures and represents honestly through her vision as both an educator and painter.

Born in Los Angeles and currently stationed out of a studio in Hamtramck (a dense and diverse city inside the city limits of Detroit), Forte teaches both privately out of her studio and via workshops throughout the country with stints at the de Young Museum of Fine Art (San Francisco) and the Walt Disney Family Museum (San Francisco).

During Forte’s residency at Red Bull House of Art, we spoke with her about how limitations and working as an educator has expanded her range and comfort as an artist.

In your representational oil paintings, depth and color are key elements. What attracts you to the color palette that you’ve been using recently?

The subject matter I choose decides the color. So, whatever I’m attracted to I paint with whatever colors I need to paint it and perhaps I get attracted to similar things at the same time so that becomes a look, hopefully. That’s the intuitive way for me … and I try not to intellectualize that at all. I try to focus on three words — integrity, instinct, and economy. Economy is kind of how I paint. It’s the facts, but not all of them. Integrity would just be making sure I’m painting what feels like the right thing to paint.

To get more technical about color, I always had high expectations for my skills so I knew that I wasn’t controlling it very well. So, I decided for two years to limit myself to a two-color plus black and white color palette. Starting with that and learning to stretch the least amount of colors to their maximum intensity or range taught me a lot about how to utilize color.

You have an ideology that you’ve created for yourself.

Well, to be awesome and be true.

Do you see a clear benefit from creating and follow rules for yourself as an artist?

It depends if you think that technique was important. I always have, but it fluctuates and changes. The things I value in technique become different from when I was 15-years-old and I wanted to paint like John Singer Sargent. Still, some things have stuck like solid drawing skills, composition, and design … but not so much edges and the kind of illusion of reality. Words become less important to me. As I’m teaching people who are starting from nothing a lot of times, you have to kind of start them with limited ideas because they can’t hold them all in. Limitations are good for learning to paint like this — three hours with a painting instead of 27 tortuous hours where you’re just painting a shitty painting on top of a shitty painting. In three hours, you will fail or succeed but you start another one and you learn from that one. You use limitations a lot in teaching.

You’ve mentioned that being an educator has helped make you a better painter. Can you expand on how being on the other side of the desk changed your perception and approach as an artist?

Just through teaching — having to be accountable and responsible and verbalize something that was visual made me understand what I was doing more. And, having to reach four classes a week, painting from life gave me the mileage. You only get better if you’re doing it all the time. You’re kinda warmed up. You get creative ideas. You aren’t afraid to experiment because each piece isn’t so monumentally important that you’re afraid to make a mistake.

By Ryan Patrick Hooper