Featured Artist

Anne Forest

Interview by Floor Kortman, images by Anne Forest

Our latest featured artist Anne Forest (1983) sure paints some interesting creatures. In an attempt to unravel the status-laden facades of the Russian Orthodox icons she’s inspired by, Forest paints portraits of people, animals and other creatures on carpets and rugs, sometimes as big as three metres. The tactile nature of the rugs with thick layers of paint, combined with the almost primitive lines and colour application, make her paintings a strange reference to a human past. And as she says: ‘For me, an icon is ultimately a tool that enables the viewer to reflect deeply on him- or her-self.’ Forest’s rugs present a somewhat horrifying mirror for the unexpecting viewer.

Anne Forest

Who are you?

Anne Forest, 30, painter.

Why do you paint on carpets and rugs? And are these the regular carpets you can buy in stores?

I’ve always created images that have a strong graphical quality to them. There’s a lot of control in my technique, which is a quality a have a love/hate relationship with. I feel a need to disrupt the control, to contradict it with the surfaces I paint on. Some carpets I paint on are so thick that the final results almost have a 3D quality to them, which, considering I’m addicted to using strong lines and a lot of flat, monotone shapes, is an interesting area to be working in.

I buy the carpets secondhand off of Marktplaats.nl, a Dutch auction site. The more lived-on they feel and look, the better. I sprawl them out on the floor of my studio and live with them for a while until the moment comes that I know I need that carpet to make that painting. And so, they slowly all make their way from my floor up to my walls.

Anne Forest

I noticed you give all the people and animals you paint names, do these names refer to anything, do they all have a story?

Almost all my paintings start with me being inspired by a Baroque or Renaissance portrait. Sometimes there are hardly any visual clues left to reveal this to the viewer by the time I’ve finished a work, sometimes there are; it’s not really that important. What is important is me feeling a connection with the originally portrayed people from these classical works and using those connections in my work. My work is my take on these people, my attempt to unravel them and find what’s layered under those status-laden facades (aka: what attracts me to these types of works in the first place). I try to uncover the name of the person who once posed for that painting. You never know: a painting might be named Lady Bladibla but it turns out it was her maid who sat all those hours for that painting. In that case, I need the name of that maid!

I like to find out the name of the figure I’m working on as soon as possible. The name casts a whole new light on the person I’m looking back in time at, and therefore on my rendition of him/her. Sometimes I play around with variations of the name my investigation has turned up. The sound of a name can really change the whole atmosphere of a work. Also, as soon as the name has been established I start feeling responsible, almost motherly towards the figure I’m painting and much more of a sense of urgency from that point on.

Anne Forest

The facial expressions of your portraits are very intriguing. I understand your inspirations comes from Russian-orthodox icons, but instead of pious and peaceful, some of your figures look almost horrified, what is the reason for this?

The rigid and naïve style in which Russian-orthodox icons are painted has inspired me greatly, but what fascinates me most of all is how an icon is so fully in service of the person looking at it, or, more importantly, at the figure portrayed in the icon. The icon is there for the viewer to understand the figure in it or what that figure symbolizes, and through that understanding, connect with the figure and to derive meaning from that connection. For me an icon is ultimately a tool that enables the viewer to reflect deeply on him- or her-self. Obviously I’ve stripped away all religious connotations from what icons mean to me as I’m not a religious person. But the simple fact that saints in icons symbolize something greater than themselves for the viewer to connect with, is something I try to carry out through my own work. But rather than symbolizing godliness or martyrdom and other unearthly traits to strive towards, I’m interested in symbolizing the opposite; the shared human traits that we think keep us apart from each other but in fact, as they are our deepest, most primitive traits, bind us closer than anything else. Our fear of the unknown and of what is to come, our loneliness, our self-doubt, our animalistic tendencies, our rage, our seeking protection, our giving it. I try to mirror these traits in the faces I paint, to peel back our layers and acknowledge our common fragilities.

Anne Forest

I read you’re interested in the icons in which Mary and child are portrayed together, and I see you often paint one creature holding another smaller creature, but what’s with all the monkeys? Are the monkeys, or ape-like creatures a reference to the primitive man to counter the religious aspect of the icon?

I never think of a specific animal when I start painting one. They feel like complete made-up creatures to me. In a sense they symbolize the most pure and innocent because they are completely born out of my imagination. They’re immaculate, as is the child held in Mary’s arms. I find the power-structure in these Mary and child icons fascinating. She is the caregiver, the protector and yet ultimately the child has the power and is her protector. This fascination has resulted into these types of works and although they aren’t deliberate Darwinian or anti-religious statements, they are another attempt to bring the holy back to earth.

Anne Forest

Some of your paintings are as large as three meters high, what’s the reason for, or the challenge of, working on such a large scale? 

I didn’t really start painting until about 5 years ago, before that I was drawing all the time. My drawings weren’t that big, sometimes very detailed and usually just graphite on paper. But I always knew that I actually wanted to be a painter, and when that finally happened, when I took the big plunge, a world of possibilities opened up. Color, scale, all kinds of materials to paint on… Of course all these possibilities can be explored through drawing as well, but I knew I needed to make the transition to painting to really be able to stretch myself as an artist.

I’m not a classically trained painter so I would say that the challenges in making a large work brings with it aren’t much bigger than a small one would. I feel very free to produce the image in my head in any way that feels logical or natural to me. I enjoy working on such a large scale now and then because most of the paintings I look at to inspire me exude such awesomeness. Making huge paintings is just one of the techniques I like to experiment with to evoke a similar overpowering effect.

Anne Forest

Any big plans for the future, is there anything exciting coming up?

2013 has turned out to be a pretty exciting year, especially because I was nominated for the Koninklijke Prijs voor Vrije schilderkunst, which opened up some interesting doors for 2014. I’m collaborating on a couple of very cool publications, my first solo exhibition will be coming up in February at Galerie Bart Amsterdam and in April I’ll be the artist-in-residence at Het van Goghhuis in Zundert, a museum dedicated to van Gogh’s work and built on his birthplace.

These first couple of years of my ‘artists-life’ have been quite a trip so far. Working quietly, tucked away in my studio for weeks on end followed by a period of surprises popping up left and right. I never really know what’s coming, in the studio or out of it. It’s the kind of life that keeps you on your toes and I hope it will stay like this for a while.