Interview with Allen Forrest, Illustrator

Allen Forrest

Andrew Stancek: Did you paint these works after reading the written work, or did you match work which you already had to the work?  Can you tell us about the inspiration, or how the matching occurred? Perhaps even a specific piece of writing and your specific painting.

Allen Forrest:  In most cases a magazine will take an existing drawing or painting and match it to a story or poem they are going to publish. Then there are my illustration pieces, in which case I work with a writer who sends me their words and I interpret them. Usually I create just one piece for visual interest which relates to a story event or a main character to entice the reader. My work is initially inspired by my feeling for an existing visual, a model, something I see on my daily travels or a photograph, perhaps another artist’s work and I will create my stylized interpretation of that subject.


AS: Can you talk about the influences on your work, your background, where you studied, what artists make your heart stop?

AF: Some years back, I was taking a Reichian Therapy program and became so drawn to art that I needed to do something about it. This need began my journey into the world of fine art and illustration. Since then, I have mostly taught myself, but with the aid of an occasional drawing or painting class.

I like to visually challenge myself. For instance, I’d rather paint some older, less picturesque part of town than a beautiful one, which I have done my share of. I’d rather capture rough industrial areas on my canvas and show the beauty in them. I have traveled, lived, and worked in different parts of the U.S. and Canada. Sometimes I paint cities and locales from my past. I have special memories and feelings about these places and painting them helps me stay connected with those experiences.

As far as artists that make my heart stop, I would say inspire me and create that ache inside to create, there are too many to name, but I will name a few. My favorites (in no particular order): William Steig,  Terry St. John, David Park, Pablo Picasso,  Judy Molyneux, Richard Diebenkorn, Vincent van Gogh, Ben Shahn, Beth Betker, Romare Bearden, El Greco, Francisco Goya, Mark Rothko, and the list goes on and on…


AS: I continue to be intrigued by process, and have had little opportunity to talk to visual artists.  Could you talk about one of the pieces which appears in r.kv.r.y and tell us what the original inspiration was, and the steps along the way which you took until you felt that the work was ready to send out into the world?

AF:  This is watercolor painting from my Greater Vancouver series. It is of Capilano Canyon River Canyon in North Vancouver, B.C., a lagoon pool, where the river slows down. As a young man when I was working during the summer in-between university semesters on my days off I would go down to a secluded beach by this river. Here I would get some sun, read a good book, lie around and dream of things to come. This park is very beautiful and I have special memories there. Unfortunately as time went on the river changed its level and the beach area is not there anymore. So as a way to preserve my memory of that time, I decided to do a series within the Vancouver series about this special place.


Sometimes beginner’s luck waves its magic wand over me. My best work is generally done without the usual preparation that many other artists engage in. Or as a lady friend of mine says about her morning coffee, “The first press is the best.” Even though I hadn’t worked in watercolor in some time, I just dove in and let the strong feelings I have for this subject guide me. I created this series in a couple of sessions. I really felt I had caught what I was after, so I uploaded them to my online albums and started submitting them to publications. Several magazines have been interested in this series and I still have a fondness for them.


AS: I am also thrilled by the disparate list of artists who inspire you.  I have two Steig drawings framed in my house and he has given me enormous pleasure.  And when we visited Paris, some years back, I spent two days in the Picasso Museum, since so many of the works touched me. One of the great many sources of wonder about Picasso is how many times he recreated himself, how he was always bold enough to set off in new directions.  It is sometimes said of writers, with perhaps some justification, that they keep telling different versions of the same story.  I know I have certain motifs which I keep returning to in my writing, settings which continue to inspire.  Where do you see yourself in this spectrum?

AF: Once a criticism was leveled at my work. The critic said my art was derivative of other artists’ work and that worried him. Even Picasso was influenced by other artists and a saying has been attributed to him, “good artists copy, great artists steal.” Picasso first stole the European masters with his neo-classic look, then he took from Cezanne’s late geometric landscapes and further expanded this style into cubism. Then one day an artist friend took Picasso to see ancient African art: masks, statues, and symbols. Picasso turned to his friend and thanked him for showing him these works of art—and along comes those huge heads of Guernica. If you study art from ancient civilizations you will see familiar shapes and styles that became fashionable in artists’ work many centuries later.  The important thing about stealing others’ ideas and styles is to “make your own version.” Let the work have your own particular uniqueness that comes from both your strengths and your weaknesses as an artist. As far as re-inventing myself, or painting the same paintings over and over, I feel it is by getting inside other artists’ work, creating my version of them and shaping them in a slightly different direction or angle, that I begin taking on pieces of that art heritage in my style. I am terrible at “copying” something. My perceptions always lead me to a distorted take on the model and as long as I don’t try to fight it too much, but allow those mistakes to exist in the work, they will lead to uniqueness. You will create originally with the styles that you have, as Picasso said, stole from others, because they are “your way” of using them. The more styles I explore, the more I push and pull my instrument, until I reach a point where the focus becomes staying where I am. For instance, I was after a certain style of oil painting. It was what I worked at first, now eight years down the road. I have a certain way that I like to paint that creates the thick paint and emotional distortion I feel so strongly about. This style may evolve more, but that is no longer something I concentrate on; I let that go its own course. Currently I am pushing my drawing style into new areas that may have some of my peers wondering about me. That’s okay, I need this time to push and pull and try this and that as I slowly get closer to what I am trying to create. Then, as with painting, there will probably be a slowing down and a focus on where I am, without the need to try and take it further, it will evolve on its own.


AS: Finally, in this journal we always ask, what does recovery mean to you?

AF: For me, the most important form of recovery is a recovering from being lost, of finding one’s path again. We are all born knowing what path in life to take, but for many the inner compass gets blocked by society’s conditioning and they lose their way. People search to find that “something”, something that clicks in them, makes them feel—I was born to do this! This “knowing” is what many have been missing all their lives. They long to feel this creative need deep down inside. Whether this will lead to creation in art or science, it is the same ache that comes from within—I WANT to do that! When you “know” this, you will not stop. You will not follow this path for monetary reasons, but for your own private creative one. You may find, as many artists do, you will need to support yourself with other work, but it is the love of your creations that will feed you and keep you alive, truly alive.



Andrew Stancek was born in Bratislava and saw Russian tanks occupying his homeland. His dreams of circuses and ice cream, flying and lion-taming, miracle and romance have appeared recently in Vestal Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, The Windsor Review, r.kv.r.y, Tin House online, Flash Fiction Chronicles, The Linnet’s Wings, Connotation Press, and Pure Slush. His novel-in-stories, starring a teenager named Mirko, set in Bratislava in the sixties, is nearing completion. Andrew joined our masthead after we published his excellent SOS piece “Elephants and Banana Leaves” in our July 2012 issue.