THE PORTLAND GALLERY, LONDON
Archie Forrest's work has always had that wonderful ability to thrill. It had it back in the mid 1980's when I first went to see him in his studio just off Glasgow's Great Western Road; and it has it now. Interestingly his new (its about 150 years old) studio is just a few doors away from the one I visited nearly thirty years ago; in the intervening years he had a variety of studios, all within a short radius and all close to his home and beloved family. He is a dedicated artist and a dedicated family man.
This dedication doesn't stop him travelling- far from it. Its a metaphoric well trodden path that he takes most years, to stay in Saint Paul de Vence at La Colombe d'Or, the renowned hotel and restaurant which has counted many of the best known twentieth century artists and its clients. Works by Picasso, Matisse, Leger, Chagall, Buffet, Braque, Picabia and Renoir adorn the main room walls-and a magnificent Calder mobile hangs over the pool. This really is Forrest's artistic spiritual home. To understand Forrest's work one has to go back over a hundred years to Cezanne's work in Provence and particularly to the explosion of colour that was the hallmark of the fauve work of Matisse and Derain and their fellow artists in and around Collioure between 1904-1908.
There is something about the quality of light in this part of the South of France that is a magnet for artists. The Fauves were inspired by it, the Scottish Colourists and their followers equally so; it was a natural progression for Forrest to embrace it too. His espousal of the colour values created by this special light combined with his meticulous attention to paint quality and his complete understanding of composition and balance has meant that he is rightly regarded as one of the true contemporary colourist champions.
Forrest's obvious joy in paint handling and creating a complex depth of colour is mirrored by his sybaritic celebration of the beauty of both still life and landscape. The jewel like works on paper have an arresting intensity. The still lifes speak so much of the South of France that it is so difficult to believe that they have been painted in his Glasgow studio. They are a joy to have on one's walls. In many ways they are very much like him- measured, complex, larger than life and wonderfully engaging. They are the work of a perfectionist.
Tom Hewlett, The Portland Gallery, London
THE SCOTTISH GALLERY, EDINBURGH
For some painters, even some of the greatest, a successful painting emerges from the chaos; chaos of an irregular life beset with difficulties, a studio where nothing has a place, a motif plucked from the unconscious brought to painful or triumphant resolution through a long night burning the midnight oil. For others, like Archie Forrest, a highly tuned aesthetic sensibility combines with a rigorous intellect and requires that everything needed is to hand, that all the material is of a quality to match the seriousness of the process. Then the magic can begin. All his paintings start with reality, with observation of the real. In the studio he will set up his still life, placed in an interior space, viewpoint and lighting decided before he roughs in the shapes. From then on the tension between instinctive, unconscious impulses and the demands of significant form; volume, line and colour sustain the creative process. For landscape he has to marshal the ingredients of his composition to satisfy the same pectoral demands. The starting point might be the colour of the hull of a Portuguese pilchard boat pulled up on the beach or the red roofs of villas seen through a great tree borrowed from Cezanne; each picture will be true to the moment of its inspiration but must satisfy the same painterly demands. The magic might come with one single mark; a judicious colour note or the breaking of a curve. Before the artist can add his distinctive signature a picture may have been knocked right back, scraped down, left in the periphery of his eye for a week, turned upside down, put in a frame and hung on a wall as if finished. Before an exhibition Forrest will have most of his pictures in this state of near completion so that the deadline can be invoked to induce a creative stress which can prove a vital part of the resolution. The result is a tumultuous parade of colour, a celebration of painting and an affirmation that painting matters.
Guy Peploe, The Scottish Gallery, Edinburgh
ANDREW FAIRLIE, GLENEAGLES
I first came across Archie Forrest's work when I moved to Glasgow as head chef at One Devonshire Gardens. There were a few paintings and some of Archie’s sculptures throughout the hotel and I immediately fell in love with his work.
Archie’s studio at that time was a mere five minute walk from the restaurant and the true gourmand that he is, was a regular guest. We had many long after dinner chats about food, wine and art and over the period, we became firm friends.
On one such evening Archie asked if I would sit for a portrait, which of course I was more than happy to do. Not only was I intrigued as to the process, it also meant I could get access to him working in his studio.
It was a real Aladdin's cave of paintings in various stages, sculptures he was working on, sketches, photographs and hand finished frames. It was a fascinating insight into an artist's creative space and it had an energy that was truly inspiring.
In 2001, I was offered the opportunity to open my own restaurant at the world famous Gleneagles Hotel. One of the first people I turned to for help was Archie. Initially, I just wanted him to design a logo, but Archie came up with the idea of the initials AF - Art and Food; Andrew Fairlie; and Archie Forrest. He set about mixing his own Chinese ink and drawing dozens of sketches on handmade paper until he was happy with the result. I’m very proud that myself and all my chefs wear that design on our chefs whites till this day.
After the logo, Archie then got involved with the whole design process of the room, deciding what would best suit the walls. He set about designing original pieces of art using various mediums, charcoal, plaster and oils - all housed in his hand finished frames, which in themselves are a work of art. The art is now an integral part of the fabric and success of the restaurant and we receive as many compliments for art as we do for both our food and service.
I’m truly honoured that the portrait, where the journey started, is proudly hanging in the restaurant and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
DAVID Eustace, HON DR of ARTS/PHOTOGRAPHY, EDINBURGH NAPIER UNIVERSITY
Archie was one of the first artists I ever met all these years ago when I chose to become involved in the art world. His advice and help was priceless. He was incredibly generous then, as he is today and a breath of fresh air in a world that can sometimes be lost in its own self importance. He speaks openly, honestly and passionately about his and others' art and is void of small talk for the sake of it. This is the true measure of the man, he cares. He not only encouraged me as a young photographer over 25 years ago to join The Glasgow Art Club, but actively proposed me to the membership and I believe I was accepted on his recommendation. I became the first photography artist member in the club's history. Archie is not only one of the most important painters of our time…he’s one of lives finest gentleman and someone I’m proud to call a friend.