Preparing for my show in Sonora, the Sierra Mountain Times newspaper did a very nice write up in me for their paper. Much respect for having me on your pages!
Here is the article: http://mysierramountaintimes.com/?p=3559
photos by Kira Tucker
Art is everywhere. Whether in the natural world or the synthetic world, we are surrounded by creations and designs, shapes and shadows and colors and textures. We have all, at one time or another, contributed our own creativity to this constantly changing world of art, signing our names to the canvas of this fascinating and never-ending mural. Most signatures are nothing more than faint pencil scratches or ink stains, but those who are truly passionate about art are sure to leave a bold, noticeable impression on the world of art. These are the people who have made art a way of life and who are constantly inspired by their surroundings. These are people who like to draw everywhere. Forest Stearns is one of these people.
Forest, who is currently enrolled at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, has spent most of his life immersed in art, and his experiences and dedication to his talent have allowed him to excel and succeed as an artist on numerous levels. At the age of 31 the Sonora native has already illustrated a children’s book, produced artwork for Warner Brothers, Tower Records, Four Letters Clothing (fourletters.org), and numerous other clients, and is continuing to catch the eye of all who witness his imaginative works of art on a commercial and professional platform. Those who haven’t had the privilege to examine the fruits of his entertaining occupation, will have an opportunity to do so next weekend when Forest returns to his roots for an art show at the Frog and Fiddle in Sonora. The show, which will also feature live music, will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 14th. It takes a unique individual to create such unique and interesting art, and for those who will be unable to meet Forest at the show, here is an inside look at this colorful character and the picturesque path that has brought him to where he is today.
Growing up in the scenic town of Sonora, Forest instantly had a connection with the surrounding beauty, but he had other factors as well that inspired him to pursue art…his parents. As with most young children, Forest naturally followed in the footsteps of his parents – which were constantly leading him in the direction of art. With a mother who was an art teacher and a father who was a cabinetmaker, Forest’s artistic roots drank deep of the creative well within him.
“What brought me to where I am now was having the foundations in my own household,” he said. “I am an only child and my parents are both artistic on two different sides of the range. My father taught me how to see things from an engineering and building perspective of making everything tight and perfect and measuring everything correctly…and my mother has a really tight eye for design, but she is also a lot more spontaneous in her painting and more emotional and provoking, and she taught me the fine art side of it.”
Observing Forest’s natural talent, his mother encouraged him study her library of art books.
“I knew a lot about other fine artists and the classical artists growing up and I was really inspired without even knowing I was being inspired,” said Forest. “Having that constant art inspiration is what made me an artist and made me really want to do art on my own. Plus, art made me feel good and it gave me a connection to my family and friends.”
Organic Food Justice Carrots, silkscreen limited edition
Art also allowed Forest to connect with others in the community as he began attending art shows. By age 10, Forest took ‘Best of Show’ at the Tuolumne County Fair and at age 14 he sold his first painting of a landscape from a gallery. By his junior year at Sonora High Forest was awarded a summer scholarship to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco…a taste of things to come.
“When I went down there that’s really what set my mind to be like, ‘wow, I can be a professional artist, but I can do the art that I want to do’ rather than being stuck in the niche of art that I was seeing up in the foothills,” said Forest. “There is nothing wrong with that art and there is a lot of amazing artists up there, but I was young and wasn’t into painting landscapes and barns. I was into comic books and really bold linear work.”
Another inspiration for Forest was graffiti, an art form that was foreign to the foothills.
“I had a tight group of friends and we started coming down to the city and checking out the city scene and getting inspired on graffiti,” he said. “There wasn’t any graffiti in Sonora so we kind of jumped on it.”
This group of friends would also gather for ‘art fests’ at Forest’s mom’s art studio.
“We would get together once every other weekend and draw in our sketchbooks all night long,” he recalled. “We would even make our own t-shirts and sell them to our friends. Our friends loved the artwork we were doing so we were becoming commercial without really understanding what that was about.”
Although Forest was unknowingly scratching at the surface of a possible artistic career, after high school Forest wasn’t sure what he wanted to do professionally so he decided to attend Columbia Jr. College where he earned two associate degrees, one in liberal arts and one in fine arts.
“I was constantly doing art and constantly being inspired by art but I didn’t really want to do the exact same art my mom was doing and I wasn’t really so stoked on being such a perfectionist builder like my dad, so I was feeling it out for myself,” he said. “Although Columbia was great, it was such a narrow niche for what I was figuring out existed.”
The more Forest traveled, the more his eyes were opened.
“I started traveling a lot and living in different places,” he said. “I lived in Yosemite, Alaska, Pittsburgh and Washington D.C., so I got a chance to travel around and meet a lot of folks and get new influences…which was epic.”
However, even while living in such extraordinary natural setting such as Yosemite and Alaska, Forest’s artwork didn’t necessarily portray what most artists would produce in those environments.
“I am really inspired by nature, but I am not inspired by the contrived beauty of postcard nature,” he said. “I am inspired by it personally – Yosemite is one of my favorite places on earth – but I am not just going to do a painting of Half Dome or a painting of a field of horses and consider that something that I am happy with. Because I grew up in Sonora it wasn’t like the natural outdoor landscape was new to me – it was kind of like second nature and I was way more interested in the subtlety of society within that nature and even the exploitation of that nature. If you look at my art now you can see that as the underlying current. There is definitely something spooky about my landscapes; something kind of edgy…and I love that. I was so used to this prettiness that I began to think, ‘what is it about this that is interesting to me?’ So I would push things a little more graphic and a little more edgy and spooky… maybe just to be outside the lines of what my teachers or peers were telling me to do. But this has really developed into my style. I think it’s sophisticated and intelligent, but also makes you look at something almost at a surreal level and be like, ‘why is something that is so beautiful, a little bit spooky?’”
It is because of this style that he has been able to stand out in a sea of striving artists.
“My style is really strong and graphic,” said Forest. “It’s bold and linear and I’m really trying to work to make it less flat. It’s not rendered. I would say rendered is the opposite of an explanation of my work. When you look at something rendered there’s obviously roundness to it…like a Rembrandt piece. I’ve always liked that and now that I am in graduate school I am learning how to render things so I am trying to bring that into my work…but do I like the flatness of my illustrations.”
Yet before entering graduate school, Forest had a lot to learn, and his next destination was Humboldt University.
“Before I headed up to Humboldt, I spent some time in Santa Barbara and got really stoked on the graffiti scene down there, and just the urban-ness,” he said. “But I got sick of society in Southern California and decided to do my undergrad at Humboldt because it was the only state school that wasn’t in a big city. I figured I might as well go to a smaller school, because I had the graffiti mentality that it would be easier to get noticed in a small community than go to a big city and get noticed.”
It was in Humboldt where Forest and his friends took a more positive approach to the idea of graffiti art.
“A group of us would get together and do a good 100 pieces of art at my house and then walk around the city on a Saturday night and put up free art everywhere,” he said. “It was taking graffiti past the vandalism and bringing it back into a collective community consciousness. A few of us got in trouble for vandalism and you can only take that so far, but if your doing these pieces with the same intention of graffiti – of getting yourself out into the community and getting seen – but doing it in a medium that can be taken off of the walls and collected, then your artwork lives past just some dirty tag on the wall. If you saw a graffiti piece you were struck by in an alleyway and were like, ‘wow, that’s amazing,’ it may live in your memory, but if you were to see a really cool piece done on a scrap piece of wood stuck in some corner of an alleyway, you may be affected the same way, but this time, if you had the initiative, you could climb that wall, pull off that piece and take it home.”
Forest has often seen his street art hanging in homes throughout the Humboldt area.
“I’ve been to parties in Humboldt where there are like 35 of our pieces of art on the walls and they have no idea who I am because I don’t sign my name,” he said. “We try to do it anonymously…because it’s littering – but when you go to a party and see these pieces on the wall, you are totally stoked! You’ve given someone else your art vibe without even having to push it on them like galleries or advertising.”
Of course Forest didn’t have a problem with hanging his artwork in galleries either…in fact he co-founded Empire Squared, an art gallery that was started by an impactful group of artists that took the town by visual storm.
“I met up with a crew up there and we renovated a big warehouse into an art gallery and started our own non profit gallery art collective,” he said. “Every single month we would have an art show and that’s what really made it happen for me and my peer group. Having a peer group that really pushed each other inside and outside of school was what made me strong and fearless as an artist. School was great, it taught me the technical side of it, but so many artists in state school weren’t pushing themselves past their senior show…and we were having a show every single month! The teachers were watching it happen, but none of them were really stoked on what we were doing because we were doing it outside of the school premise. We didn’t have the academia support, but it didn’t really matter because we had our own energy. We went from six people getting together in my apartment to having a crew of over thirty people in a warehouse where we could have amazing parties and amazing art shows and newspapers would do write-ups on us all the time. It was mega juice…total energy!”
Although Forest and his crew had created a lot of energy outside of the classroom, Forest found inspiration inside as well.
“There are a few of my undergrad teachers that I really admire, but James Moore gets the most props out of any of them,” he said. “He inspired me to take my art to the next level. He could see what I was about and told me to push myself rather than my mark, and that was so inspiring to me. Teachers in general who push their students past the academia and into developing themselves as confident artists are the teachers I have the most respect for. Teachers that would tell me to make better work, push myself harder, go bigger and make myself proud.”
Of the Heart - 2′x3′ acrylic
Besides teachers, family and friends, Forest is inspired by a wide range of artists.
“I admire everyone from Michelangelo to Gustaf Clint to fine artists of today,” he said. “Anyone who I can look at their art and I know that they are making themselves proud and they are going #&%* huge just by wanting to…those are the artists that I respect the most. And sometimes those artists can be my own high school students who often have more ambition than some professionals that I know.”
After graduating from Humboldt in 2005 with a BA in Fine Art, Forest stayed in the area for a few years and was an instructor of illustration at Arcata Art Institute.
“For two years I pushed my high school students to take their art past art class and into published medium and their art was published in a book called the Encyclopedia of Nonsensical Ambiguity,” he said. “That was really fun for me to see that process happen. The book is out in the community so the kids have a lot of pride in the book they produced. It’s super inspiring to work with kids and work in a community and take your art out of your studio and put it back into the community and sharing it.”
His teachers, peers and students had inspired him while living in Humboldt, but after establishing himself as an artist up there, Forest decided it was time to take the next step and moved to the city to attend the art school of art schools: the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Forest left Humboldt with over 75 months of art shows under his belt and was now ready to take his work to a larger audience…which he quickly found in the city as he began doing live-art shows with musicians.
“I’ve done a lot of art and music shows,” he said. “At Amoeba Records in Hollywood there were like 400 people in a store surrounded by row after row of people screaming and watching the DJ while I am doing art. I’m going, ‘I better not choke.” But you just have to go with it. You get stoked on the energy and hopefully you have a good idea in you mind and enough confidence to smile and nod and fix your mistakes – because if you make a mistake and you are able to fix it…it’s not a mistake.”
Sloths Angeles, is a big 5×7 foot painting on paper
Forest has also had the privilege of performing at interactive music-and-art events with DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist, Z-Man, AC Alone and De La Soul.
“These are pretty big names and to get on stage with them is like, ‘Wow!’ – all of a sudden your heroes are your peers,” he said. “And they love the fact that you are creating a visual for their set.”
Some of these sets last for hours allowing for Forest to create a giant mural…while other sets are much shorter.
“Cut Chemist said his set was 36 minute and I was like, ‘wow,’ I need to come up with a picture in 36 minutes that is both finished and as professional as Cut Chemist is with his music,” he said. “It’s a fun experience and I love working with musicians and with people that have a project going that they feel pride in that I can share my own work with.”
This is also how Forest feels about the companies he does freelance work for.
“I’ve done work with Tower Records and Warner Brothers and Four Letter Clothing Company and I’ve done record covers for folks…I’m trying to stay well rounded,” he said. “I just finished doing a 90 page children’s book about otters. It was so fun because the publisher and author were so into the story that it allowed me to be into the art. I love that! So I’m maintaining my graphic style, but pushing it within all these different elements…which is making me better.”
Of all the art mediums Forest has studied and practiced throughout his years as an artist, his favorite is drawing.
“I love to draw,” he said. “My drawings have always been my strong point during my undergraduate degree and now that I am doing my graduate degree I chose illustration because it’s really based on the skill of drawing.”
Now, half way done with his three-year graduate school Masters of Fine Art (MFA) program at the Academy, he is amazed to see how far he has come.
“I just passed my midpoint review and I am building my thesis project right now,” he said. “My thesis is based on looking at sacred mythology and symbolism but seeing it on how it’s been developed in the industrial age and how old school symbols and myths are now seen with the advent of such insane technology that we are in. It’s crazy to think that I am really doing this because this is the terminal degree for artists. I grew up in a small town never really thinking I would go to college, and now I am getting the highest degree you can get in it!”
But his teachers still constantly remind him that he needs to get better.
“About 80 percent of my graduate school teachers are saying, ‘you guys are in the field that you’ve chosen, now where are you going to go with it? You’re all good, but you all need to get so much better. This is what good work is right now, this is what good work has been historically and this is where you guys need to strive for.’ They are kicking our asses! But it’s so good because they are telling us how we are going to succeed as an artist both in the business side of it and the skill side of it. They tell us, ‘use our own judgment because the world of art is different for everybody, but get really good and make yourselves proud and you will succeed.’ That resonates so hard for me. I love that, and I love teaching kids that and my peers that.”
It is for this reason that Forest’s ultimate goal of the Masters program is to become a teacher.
“I want to be a teacher at a college level so I can have a group of artists that I am always inspired by,” he said. “Maybe that’s a self-indulgent thing, but I can always further my own education and always be stoked on my students and push my own style and be inspired by my own work.”
But in the meantime, Forest wouldn’t mind working with bigger clients as well.
“My education right now is all about working my way into the business side of it with big clients,” he said “I have always been a snowboarder and a skateboarder and I would love to do a line for Burton…that is an amazing goal. To have Burton snowboards call me up and say, ‘Forest we have seen your art and we want you to do the line for the baddest snowboards we have…and we want to give you one of each of them and send you around the world to snowboard on them.’ That would be so cool. I would humbly thank them for that opportunity.”
But even at the skill level that Forest is at, he knows that being an artist isn’t easy.
“I really want to find success in this art thing…and it’s really elusive, especially in our times right now where art is definitely put on the backburner for 700 billion dollars going to the banks,” he said. “Where is the money for the arts and for the culture? I can always hope that I get good enough that I get recognized and to have clients to pay me well for my good work, but I don’t expect anything for myself but to be as good as I can be. I mean, I hate for money to be the main purpose for art, but I am a professional artist and need to pay the rent. It’s a factor. The ultimate goal is selling my work, but I do a lot of work and I still have a lot of work that I’ve done just for the fun of it.”
It is this enjoyment and fun that Forest finds in art that allows him not to hold on too tightly to his art.
“I try to maintain a pretty humble stance in my art,” he said. “I try to keep my own personality disconnected from my art because I don’t want my art to be me. I kind of want to be an artist doing work because I want to constantly be able to get better, and if I get so attached to my work I wont be able to progress and leave that body of work behind to do a better piece. It goes back to the graffiti mentality – always try to be on top but as soon as you do a piece, let it go.”
This is probably why Forest is more about the experience of the art than the final product.
“I definitely have pieces that I love, but I mostly love the working aspect of it,” he said. “It’s usually the breakthrough pieces that are my favorite. They may not technically be the best, but it’s intellectually where I went and I figured something out about my process to kind of start the next set. I’m constantly getting breakthroughs just by looking at other people’s artwork…for example, my good friend Sunny Wong in Humboldt. He does graffiti letters like nobody’s business and every time I look at his work and try to do it myself I get better. Every time I look at certain artist’s work and really study them and try to put their mark into my work, I get better…and I love those pieces. So I don’t have one super famous piece, but I definitely have moments in my artwork that are my favorite moments.”
Yet like in every artistic field, Forest admits that there are unfavorable moments when he will fall into the inky abyss of artist’s block.
“There is definitely artist’s block,” he laughed. “I think that the more education you have about the kind of art that is out there, the less this will occur. If you know what happened in art you can always do something to either contrast that, or if you know how art is done within a lot of different techniques then you can always contrast ideas there. People get artist’s block when they aren’t inspired by other things. Artists that say they aren’t inspired by anything else or that art comes from nowhere else are full of #$^@. Like Picasso said, ‘the best artists don’t borrow, they steal.’ You are constantly taking really good ideas and making them your own and if you can do that as an artist without plagiarizing, its like you’re having a dialogue with the past with things that are done.”
However, sometimes this can be a very fine line.
“Look at Shepherd Ferry, the artist who did the Obama poster,” said Forest. “He is in contention for using the syndicated press photo which he manipulated to make into his own artwork. Is it plagiarism or did he take it to the next level? All of his artwork is based on other people’s photos but is he having a conversation that is bettering the artwork and taking it to another place? If you can take anything to another place, you’ll rarely have artist’s block. I mean I’ll get up and have days where I just don’t feel creative, but for the most part I can always come up with some ideas. If you take three different things that you’re stoked on and you triangulate them into one thing…you have something new.”
Currently, Forest is discovering new mediums that are allowing him to explore different artistic options.
“I am really getting into silkscreen right now,” he said. “I love it! I love the idea of taking it to the next level and doing different pieces of paintings with a lot of different colors and silk-screening my line work on top of that. I am really into multimedia and I am not restricted by medium, but I am inspired by how many mediums can be used on the final product. Nothing is safe from use.”
Forest is also inspired by the challenge of re-creating the human body in art form.
“My last semester at Humboldt I studied abroad in Greece and I was really inspired by the figurative work and sculptural work,” he said. “If you look at my paintings there are a lot of nudes and I love doing figurative work because the challenge of doing a figure is so hard. Everyone knows what a figure looks like so in order to do a figure you have to do it right or else even a kid will say, ‘that’s not right.’ So if you’re starting to draw faces and they’re not right, you better really make them stylistic and abstract.”
Yet besides finding new mediums and outlets and challenges, Forest wants his art to have a theme that will better the world.
“The main importance that I am coming up with in my art and that I am really being inspired by is self sufficiency and food justice and transportation justice and social justice,” he said. “We all need to be intelligent about our sustainability. I really want to try to start pushing that in my own work. Because after all, art is just stuff, and I feel like the stuff that you’re making has to have something more than just beauty to it. Whether it’s a spooky notion where maybe I need to look more into this, or an educational notion of ‘wow, this is a big problem and we can ultimately solve this by being positive and effective and getting educated about it.’ So I am really looking to do art that has that basis of making a change – and not the contrived change, and not like Obama’s change, but us personally doing something that is bettering the community. I think that is the ultimate importance in art because art illustrates history after history has passed. You look at every single culture historically back to caveman drawings and the artists are the ones that we look at for the visual record of the society and the culture. It’s our jobs as artists to do things that promote the good of society because that is ultimately what will be looked back upon and they will illustrate where we are coming from. I am trying to do that in my own art and I suggest other artists to do that as well. I mean, musicians and everybody! We all have that same responsibility. It’s a luxury to do art and an honor to be able to be part of a community and to take that art and pass it into the community is something that I love. My statement to our own community is to support the arts and support education.”
For those who are feeling the effects of the dwindling arts programs, Forest has words of wisdom for aspiring artists.
“Learn how to love hard work,” he said. “Push yourself really, really hard and get influence from everywhere.
Don’t be afraid of anything. To me it’s not about who you are, it’s about how you work with what you have. Put in your hours! I think anyone can be really good at art, and if they want to learn art, they can learn it with a lot of practice. It’s not something that is super ultra intellectual like math or science. It just comes down to putting in your time. Be passionate about it and don’t covet your ideas; share your ideas…because the more ideas that get shared in the world…the better they evolve.”
To see some of Forest’s ideas on paper, canvas and silkscreen, be sure to come to the Frog and Fiddle at 177 Washington Street in Sonora. The $10 event will feature Forest’s art (which will be for sale), entertainment (San Francisco band NISUS, local band LURV, and Santa Cruz DJ iLL Tones) and food, and will take place at 7 p.m. on Saturday March 14th. To see more of Forest’s artwork, visit draweverywhere.com.