Chris Forsey – showing his true colours

If you've ever wondered down Dorking High Street on a Saturday morning, you might well have found yourself doing a double-take... For in the window of the Pump Gallery, there've been some strange things going on...

If you've ever wondered down Dorking High Street on a Saturday morning, you might well have found yourself doing a double-take... For in the window of the Pump Gallery, there've been some strange things going on...

by Tinx Newton

The common image of the artist as a lonely craftsman, tucked away in a tiny garret studio spending hours alone and painting until the light fades, is now outdated. These days, such is the fascination with art, and the desire of so many people to be creative, that some artists have extended their skills to include live performance.

In order to share their skills and techniques with others, artists such as Chris Forsey, who lives and works in Dorking, often give creative demonstrations. Walk past the Pump Gallery in Dorking during one of these sessions, where Chris literally sits in the window, and you'll be amazed at the sounds of laughter alternated with complete silence as people watch him create a work of art in under two hours.

More than just a session where he shares his techniques, Chris displays true showmanship as he entertains the crowd and yet never loses his creative direction. His work shows influences of fauvism in his ability to use intense colours in a vibrant, almost reckless way. To watch him in action at one of his popular demonstrations is a nerve-racking experience, yet it quickly becomes apparent that he knows his craft and that he is totally confident of the outcome of his seemingly frenetic flirtation with the materials.

"For me it's about control, letting it go then relinquishing it at the right moment, making a mess and then pulling it together," he says. "Apparently, Turner's watercolour work often started as a mess of washes and only in the last 10 minutes did he bring it all together, so I'm in good company."

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Incredibly Chris is entirely self-taught. He studied graphic design at Bristol Polytechnic in the 70s and then worked for Mitchel Beazley as an illustrator for many years. But he actually learned how to paint by studying the work of those he admired, artists such as Roland Hilder and John Blockley.

"I just loved Hilder's landscapes, those big elm trees and the moodiness and back lighting in his work - everything was so evocative," says Chris. "And Blockley created a sense of mystery in his work and wonderful textures in his watercolour that really inspired me.

"I felt I must try painting myself so started by doing tiny watercolours while I was on holiday. In 1984, I entered a small watercolour of the Eiffel Tower into the Royal Institute of Watercolours exhibition. A gallery from the Cotswolds got in touch, and through them I sold paintings successfully for about five years."

After a break to concentrate on family life, Chris's creativity was re-ignited by a visit to a Howard Hodgkin exhibition that inspired him to start painting again. In his own words, 'seeing Hodgkin's celebration of colour re-kindled the flame.'

Since that exhibition, Chris has painted prolifically - exploring different techniques and styles, but never losing his distinct 'Forsey stamp'.

Recently he has extended his watercolour style to include gouache, pastel, acrylic and ink, and is fascinated by textural depth. He explores different surfaces and uses a combination of tools to apply the paint - sticks, card, netting, sponge - nothing escapes his experimental eye.

"The joy for me is the unpredictability of some of these materials," he says. "I exploit that unpredictability by letting the painting free, then controlling it, then letting it loose again."

Chris draws his inspiration from the landscapes of southern England, the Cornish coastline and the bright sunlight and colours of the Mediterranean. He succeeds in capturing light and form in a personal and exhilarated way, working from copious notes, sketches and photos that are then translated into finished works in the studio.

His recognition in the art world continues to grow; he has achieved major exhibition success in recent years, and has had work accepted at the Royal Academy, The Royal Watercolour Society and The Royal Institute of Watercolour Painters. Last year, he received the F. Donald Blake prize from the Lincoln Joyce Fine Art Gallery for his contemporary water based mixed media painting at the Mall Galleries in London.

As Chris's desire to paint accelerates, so does his enthusiasm to share his passion with others. His classes and demonstrations at the Pump Gallery are always popular and he runs residential courses in the UK and abroad, enjoying not just the creative side but also the dynamics within the groups. His energy seems without limits and he acknowledges his appetite for creativity.

"I guess I'm just addicted to painting," he says. "I often find myself waking up in the morning completing paintings or planning the next one in my head. But I've come to the conclusion that most of my best work is done at demos when I'm only partly concentrating on the painting, it seems to create a more spontaneous and exciting look to the work."

For more details, call the gallery on 01306 888317 or visit the website: