Born in Grenada in 1956, Denzil Forrester moved to Britain with his family at the age of 10. In the early 1980s he was one of a handful of Black artists to graduate with an MA in Fine Art (Painting) from the Royal College of Art, after studying at the Central School of Art, and has since had a dynamic career at home and abroad, while lecturing in London. In 1983 he was awarded a scholarship to visit Rome and he cites this as influential in his exploration of colour and light.
Forrester’s kinetic and vibrant paintings evoke soundscapes, dance halls and the urban life of London. His paintings evoke pulsating masses of people and movement, notably imaging the 1970s’ and 1980s’ emergence of dub music and dance in London. While his work calls to mind the undulating shadows and limbs of works of the Harlem Renaissance or the vivid prismatic angles of German Expressionism, Forrester’s distinct style bears witness to 1980s Black British culture. Lending a bold use of colour and light to such works, he explores police brutality as well as the liveliness of urban musicality.
Forrester would regularly set up in dance venues, drawing at a table or behind the bar in steamy, barely lit clubs. Limited by light, he transformed the beat of the music and kaleidoscopic strobes into his colourful paintings. His depictions of hot, loud night clubs almost align with the Impressionists’ imaging of bourgeoisie nightlife of the 19th century, when the Folies Bergère and the Moulin Rouge were immortalised by Manet, Picasso, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. Forrester cites the work of German Expressionists as another significant influence. As his practice developed, he began to focus more strongly on light and colour, arguably influenced by the bright aesthetics of Italy. His work has explored political themes, from police brutality in 1980s London, equally capturing the pulsating sounds and emotive feelings that reverberate today.
Forrester has been exhibited throughout his career, from the Royal Academy Summer Show (1982, 1987, 1995) to the Accademia Britannica, Rome (1984), to his inclusion in Transforming the Crown: African, Asian and Caribbean Artists in Britain, 1966–1996, Studio Museum in Harlem and The Bronx Museum of Art (1997). His most recent shows, featuring work from the 1980s, have been curated by Peter Doig: Tramps exhibition space, London (2016), and at White Columns, New York (2016). His debut in America at the age of 60, the New York exhibition highlighted Forrester’s on-the-spot paintings and drawings of London’s nascent reggae scene - and was named by Vogue magazine as one of the Best Art Shows of the 2016.
Denzil Forrester (b. 1956)
Dub Scratch, 1990
Music, movement, and London’s urban life are major sources of inspiration for the artist. The music that permeates his work comes from the West Indies; the range of iridescent colours into which he translates the music is evoked by the light and colour of Italy.
Oil on canvas
On loan from Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston