“The painting needs to be alive.” (An Interview with Allen Forrest)

As we move into this cadenza, we've been wanting to become more fluid, more willing to throw ourselves into the music. No artist better embodies that than our featured artist for Issue V. Open your eyes with us, and join us welcoming our fifth featured artist, Allen Forrest.

HM: Issue V’s theme is Cadenza: “the saxophone laugh – the air of smoke & blue – the love affair as old fashioned as it is timeless.” In jazz, a cadenza most often features improvisation. How does that kind of spontaneity figure into your process?

AF: I usually like the first version best over the others done after. I am one of those people who generally does their work better if there is a certain amount of winging it.

The backgrounds of your pieces are often impressionistic and suffused with vibrant color, giving the subjects a high degree of prominence in the frame. In your view, what is the relationship between a person and their environment?

In life the environment affects a person’s behavior. In a painting the environment or background affects the subject in the painting which in turn causes an effect for the viewer of the painting. The color and value vibration interplay with subject and background is important to create a feeling of emotion for the piece.

Are there any unique challenges or concerns posed by depicting musicians?

The painting needs to be as alive as the music. As though the subject could jump right off the canvas and enter the room.

The subjects of your pieces are rarely facing the viewer head-on. What is the significance of that?

I strive to look for the angles that are interesting for me to paint, and hopefully the viewer will also find them interesting.

To build on that: how does utilizing unconventional angles in your art change your mindset as an artist?

I am an offbeat kind of guy—unorthodox, my teachers used to call me. I also have dyslexia, which lets me view the world in a different way than most. I use this view to guide the angles of my art and other creative pursuits.

What is the most valuable lesson you have learned from music?

To feel something in your gut. Then you know what’s what.

You have extensive experience with covers and illustrations for literary journals and books. As a visual artist, what draws you to literary work?

Literary journals are where the new Célines, Dostoevskys, and Bukowskis are being published. It is a medium that allows for creative possibilities that the commercial publishing market generally veers away from. I like that kind of possibility.

All of your pieces featured in Issue V are oil on canvas—a medium we’ve never featured in the pages of Half Mystic. What are the emotional dimensions of this particular medium that might be lost elsewhere?

The richness and luster of oil paint can convey greater depth and feeling than most mediums, simply by its texture. It is an incredibly powerful medium.

How has your direction as an artist changed over the course of your career? How do you predict that it will change in the future?

I am moving more into black and white graphic narrative these days, as well as writing. I've also begun doing illustration for my poetry and short stories, to explore possibility in my own literary work.

Allen Forrest is a writer and graphic artist for covers and illustrations of literary publications and books.  The winner of the 2015 Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University's Reed Magazine, he lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. His Bel Red landscape paintings are part of the Bellevue College Foundation's permanent art collection in Bellevue, WA. To find more of his published works, please visit his poetry and prose collection and his graphic narrative collection.