Chuck Forsman : Interstate Alms
Sep 15 – Oct 29, 2011
Robischon Gallery presents esteemed Colorado artist Chuck Forsman's "Interstate Alms," an exhibition of ten paintings highlighting the culmination of the artist's decade-long "Vietnamerican" series. As one of the region's most distinguished artists, Forsman states that by blending images from Vietnam and the U.S. his work offers to "bring union where division once reigned; reconciliation where there was discord." Speaking to this timeless, human desire for post-war restoration, Forsman presents his singular perspective, bridging the politically-charged landscapes of foreign policy while reflecting on an American way of life through domestic land- use. From his inimitable soaring vantage point and the juxtaposition of East and West, "Interstate Alms" points to a complex and deeply-felt period for Americans and for the artist as a veteran. Forsman often returns to Vietnam on extended visits, acknowledging one of the formative influences of his life – viewing now both its landscape and culture from a much different perspective. The artist brings his perspective back home in two of three new paintings solely about the West. The potent theme of humankind's mark on the landscape is carried forth demonstrating Forsman's uncanny ability to find the sublime and heroic that transcends even the most devastated terrain – real or surreally imagined.
The exhibition begins with an encompassing embrace of Forsman's East/West fusion. The compelling Interstate Alms, the exhibition's namesake, gives an otherworldly, dream-like scene of three contemplative monks walking in unison beneath an overpass bearing a fast- moving semi hauling a clapboard house. To further describe the painting, a fierce, lightning-laced storm traverses the distant vista as a car approaches with headlights lit having already passed safely through the ominous storm. The truck, the monks and the oncoming car each individually follow their own paths along the strong compositional diagonals of the painting – their convergence leading to the heart of the matter. The vehicles and the house, as refuge, provide protection for their occupants insulating or even perhaps disengaging them from the world around. The monks move through life with a different mission, one requiring no fixed external shelter. Rather as the titled "alms" suggests, the three, yellow-robed figures must look to acts larger than themselves to provide life's essentials. Each element within the work seemingly appears out of synch with the other; worlds apart and yet, upon further investigation, intrinsically connected beyond place, politics and religion under one shared sky.
Forsman's rich contextualization suggests alternate readings of the relationships between cultures through time. The half black and white, half color presentation of Ends of the Earth initially seems to suggest a sense of separateness. A deeper reading may point to the idea that the figures on both sides of the painting are engaged in assessing their way of life as it relates to the grandeur of their respective landscapes. On the left, two figures stand near their cars at roadside in relationship to the man-made erosion now part of the epic mountainside. On the right, the family figures' perhaps view a less compromising mark of a simpler life as they
overlook their sustaining and sustainable terraced fields. The use of the earth, either unconsciously or with forethought connects the figures' humanity; joined like the face and obverse of the same global coin, one and separate equally.
Chuck Forsman's newest paintings Thaw and Sacred Cows, focus the viewer solely on the United States. With equally lavish surfaces, they draw the viewer further investigation of the environmental, aesthetic and ethical implications of land-use. For example, Sacred Cows illuminates the degradation of pit mining as evident in the West. A point of view is clearly conveyed by locating a carrion-seeking vulture square in the foreground to represent that it might only a matter of time before the earth, like the vulnerable cow the vulture is circling, succumbs. Responsive to the demands of his sensitive and challenging subjects, Forsman's undeniably masterful paint-handling prevails. His verdant hues and his glowing orange and lavender palette enable the viewer to stand in the moment to simultaneously absorb both the truth of loss and the heroic landscape that surrounds.
A native of western Idaho, the paintings of long-time Colorado resident Chuck Forsman can be found in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Wichita Art Museum, Knoxville Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Yellowstone Art Museum and the Whitney Gallery of Western Art at the Buffalo Bill Historic Center, among others. A two-time recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Forsman's work has toured such venerable institutions as the Mint Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina and the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. A former professor of Fine Art at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Forsman is the author of Western Rider: Views from a Car Window and Arrested Rivers and the just published Along the Buddha's River co-created with his daughter, Shannon Forsman.