Written by Annam Butt
At the London Fine Arts Studio we had visiting artist Felicia Forte hold a workshop for 5 days. There were two days of still-life and 3 portrait days which I had the great pleasure of portrait modelling for as well as the chance to pick her brain about her process.
Felicia’s work is bold and colourful with sophisticated simplicity which has inspired an upcoming project of my own recently. Her choice of colour and nostalgic American foods and objects intrigued me the most. There is a truth in her work, her truth that I connected with. Looking at a painting of her hot dog or a gallon of milk it took me back to my own childhood living in New York and reminded me of the beautiful, quirky differences our countries have. It’s almost like walking into a pastry shop and being transported to a memory of your grandma’s house cooking apple pie and the feeling you had at that moment.
”I call myself a representational painter, BUT I don’t want to be hemmed in or pinned down by having to represent things true to life, that is boring or tedious to me. I think at that point where I went from student to professional, and I was there alone in my studio and I had something to paint I was thinking what would people think if I simplified this. For many years I was fearful about that. As a student, you want to prove your skill, and that’s natural, then when you mature you get to the point where you accept your opinions and desires and you further that. So I try and represent a basic truth about things, like the spirit of the object, the feeling of the space but in a way that’s entertaining to me. Painting is hard technically, but I don’t want the whole thing to feel painful. It’s exciting to be able to see how simple I can make something but it still being that thing. I think that’s how abstraction naturally crept into representation for me.” -Felicia Forte
I asked if she ever thinks about her audience and if their opinions matter when she is choosing things to paint.
“No, I try very hard not to ever to never think about someone’s opinion of what I am painting or who I am painting. I call it the hook. Some subject matter and some ways of painting that subject matter pulls here in your solar plexus emotionally, and I can now as I have started to learn to listen to that I can feel when I am on the right track, and I can feel immediately when I get off of it, and I know if I am painting for pride or ego instead of something more pure.”
I explained to Felicia that her gallon of milk had inspired me to paint a composition of gummy bears in an upcoming 4-week project in school. I wanted to be able to represent something simple in an exciting way and not necessarily for its structural integrity, but because of a feeling, it gave me.
”I really love that you tried not to paint something that I painted, but somehow I conveyed why I was painting something, and you picked that up, and you painted for the same reason on a different subject matter. Halleluiah. That’s great. You wanted to do something that feels true to you. I love that.”
She gave me some advice and told me to play around with gel filters and coloured lighting to see if that could make the set up more interesting. The language of art that she speaks is exactly the same as the one we have at LFAS, the simplification of your subject and the fundamentals to her style and approach are the classical techniques that are taught to us at the atelier and ones we are familiar with. It’s exciting for me to see how Felicia has developed her own style, from what I understand style is many things but in the classical realm I believe a lot of that has to do with choices. The choices you make in your body of work, how far you believe you need to simplify a form to represent it are all things that make your work distinctly you as well as subject matter and an injection of your own personality.
During the portrait classes, I sat for Felicia for a 3-hour demo that consisted of 3 different one-hour studies as well as one 6 hour pose.
It’s easy to see the skill and accuracy in her work, but she brought something more to my 6-hour portrait. The off centre placement and worried look in my eyes made me feel like it wasn’t just a portrait of myself, but more than that I felt seen. Without knowing me for too long, she captured a feeling in my portrait. Tiny details like my imperfect eyebrows, the light beauty spot near my left eye and even the limbal ring around my brown eyes that I thought only I could see if I was facing towards a light staring into my own reflection in a mirror.
Strictly speaking for myself I walked away this week feeling inspired with the confidence in knowing that I am headed in the right direction. I know now that if I am true to my own voice, it will be seen and understood. Whether it’s gummy bears or obscure objects I am excited to keep growing and develop as an artist. These were priceless moments that will stay with me forever, and I am grateful for Felicia Forte and the London Fine Arts Studio for letting me be a part of it.