We caught up with the artist, to find out how winning the ACS Drawing Prize last year has helped her practice to flourish.
Her latest exhibition "Making Space" opens today at ACS artist Edmund de Waal’s studio.
Q. How would you define your work in three words?
Atmospheric, fluid, romantic.
Q. What did winning the Royal Drawing Schools & ACS Drawing Prize mean for you as an artist?
It was a fantastic moment for me. The Drawing Year had been such a formative and intense experience, so to have that positive feedback and an organisation like ACS acknowledge the work and want to support it – it was a massive boost. It meant I could secure a studio space of my own and keep the momentum going. I’m now a year on in the Bussey Building in Peckham and there’s such a thriving community here, it’s made all the difference to be a part of it.
‘Twilight at the River’ (2020) Collaged monoprint and pastel on Japanese paper
39 x 48.5 cm © Stephanie Forrest
What medium do you mainly work with and why?
It’s actually a constant shift between inks, monoprinting and oil painting. They each inform the other and help me keep a fresh, exploratory approach. I used to think this was a problem until I read Avigdor Arikha on his own switching between media as a deliberate strategy to actually avoid improvement: ‘When the hand improves too much you don’t tell the truth any more’. It’s uncomfortable and frustrating but the best work only seems to happen when I’m in deep water. And I guess that’s what much of the work is about – immersion.
Where do you find most inspiration for your work?
Mostly in other paintings. I’ve always loved Art History (I studied at the Courtauld Institute to begin with) and this last year I’ve become obsessed with Poussin’s bacchanals for their rhythm and use of colour. But there’s got to be a balance and drawing from observation, from the source, is equally important to me as it gives so much back. When I’m working outside, I try to follow Constable’s advice and actually forget I’ve ever seen a picture. And I’ve been drawing more and more from dance, both filmed and live performance. I’m especially interested in choreographers using the chorus, like Hofesh Shechter, and in Trisha Brown for her work on improvisation. There have been some phenomenal live-streamed pieces during lockdown; Sadler’s Wells broadcast Pina Bausch’s Rite of Spring from a beach in Senegal, danced at dusk. It was so powerful and atmospheric to draw from.
‘Landscape with a Dance, III (after Poussin)’ (2019). Monotype. 30 x 40 cm © Stephanie Forrest
Q. Take us through your working process.
This year has turned any semblance of a clear ‘working process’ completely upside down! During the first lockdown my teaching stopped and I was furloughed from my part-time job with the artist, Edmund de Waal, so I had this unprecedent and extremely privileged period focussed solely on my own practice. I actually moved out of my studio for a time and spent several months drawing and painting outside, near the River Rother where I grew up.
But wherever I’m working I have to start the day getting away from an analytical mindset and the pull of a screen. I might sketch a dream or make some abstract drawings with my eyes closed, just responding to the surrounding soundscape – whatever helps me be present in that moment. I then tend to switch modes between very intense, sustained pieces – when I’m trying to understand the structure of something – and, once it’s committed to memory, getting it down really quickly so the essence and life of the thing can come through (such as Landscape with a Dance, III and The Golden Calf – both after Poussin). I like working from subjects in motion too – dancers, swimmers, water – so chance and intuition can take over. I’m always seeking a sense of rhythm and immersive energy. Keeping that going within the stillness of the studio is perhaps my greatest challenge, but fluid, unpredictable materials and processes (like inks and monoprinting) help as they force me to relinquish control.
Q. Can you remember the first work of art that you created? What was it and why was it so memorable?
I can. It was a painting of blue and green splodges titled ‘Potatoes’ which I made when I was 3. Only memorable because Mum found it the other day and we laughed so hard about it. I can’t believe she kept it.
‘The Golden Calf (after Poussin)’ (2019). Ink and gouache on paper. 60 x 80 cm © Stephanie Forrest
In 2018, ACS began a partnership with the Royal Drawing Schools, to offer a £500 prize to assist one graduate as they move on to the next stage in their careers. Find out more about past winners on our Prizes & Bursaries page.
Until 13 Dec 2020, more information can be found on the exhibition website.