Richard Forster at the Whitworth: Drawing on experience

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Literature Editor
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Richard Forster’s near-photographic graphite studies at the Whitworth present people and places as part of a bigger picture.

Richard Forster’s work first came to my attention during Edinburgh Art Festival while at the Ingleby Gallery, where he had shown in 2008 and again in 2014. What a coincidence that the award-winning Whitworth art gallery was to run the same ‘retrospective’ of the last seven years of his practice from 29 August 2015; into my diary it was duly scribbled.

Like me and my Moleskine, Forster has a preference for pencil and paper, but, with him, what stems from such basic apparatus is pretty astounding; he creates drawings so detailed that they look like black and white film photographs. With a nod to photo-realism, Forster calls his technique “nearly-photo-realistic” or “photocopy-realistic”, and explains that it stemmed from copying posters of the likes of Morrissey and Ian Curtis when he was stuck as an “anxious teenager alienated in an English suburban bedroom.”

Forster’s technique stemmed from copying posters of the likes of Morrissey and Ian Curtis

The subject matter of his work has progressed since then – now, he often documents place, particularly in the context of political unrest and upheaval. A number of the images here were inspired by Forster’s travels around Europe during the early 90s, when communism was collapsing after the fall of the Berlin Wall. More still show the Lackenby steel plant in the North East of England, near where Forster was born and still lives. These, in particular, are striking for their expression of movement; the labourers and the red-hot viscous material they work are blurred, as if snapped with a camera on a slow shutter speed.

Such fluidity is also apparent in Forster’s lovely Three Verticals, a triptych of large seascapes depicting the tideline as if from above at his home town of Saltburn-by-the-Sea. Be sure not to miss these – they’re in a room adjacent to the main exhibition. This is might be a slight gripe with the exhibition; another is that the galleries are so dimly lit, you really do have to get up close and squint (the same show in Edinburgh was flooded with natural light).

As well as nature and cityscapes, Richard Forster at the Whitworth sees the artist return to figures, and one clever piece is of two people dancing, seemingly together but from slightly different perspectives; actually two separate pictures joined with a piece of masking tape, to make a new whole. And that sums up the exhibition: there’s something very new about it and something almost fragmented – in a good way – as if each frame is just one part of a bigger puzzle or story.

See what else is new at the Whitworth – read our review.

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