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Michelle Forsyth & Christopher Watts | Push / Pop


For the majority of Michelle Forsyth’s career, the root source and inspiration behind of her work can be found in the memories of her own past and the moments of witnessing the grief and loss experienced by others. Growing up in the age of TV, Michelle has been deeply influenced by the media and its obsessive need to cash in on the private moments of grief and despair experienced daily around the globe. What was once shocking has become almost mundane and far too commonplace and we are increasingly becoming numb to the horrors which are taking place daily. We need only turn on the TV, log on to our computer, or open the paper to witness the extent of personal tragedy experienced by so many. To counter these alienating depictions of private spectacle, Michelle favors a sensual approach to her art making and imbues her work with the tactile qualities of the handmade, crafting and building up paintings using a series of repetitive gestures. This slow and meditative process suits her obsessive attention to detail and its in these moments of creation where she finds herself connecting with her subject and its in these moments where their histories collide.

For the past several years, her work has explored the tenuous balance between public and private memories of collective tragedies and traumas. In her series 100 Drawings, one sees the fleeting presences and images of things left behind—such as mattresses dumped in the woods, clouds floating overhead, and wildflowers growing up though the cracks in the sidewalk—dominate each composition. The images in these paintings are willingly unresolved and are partially obscured with surface embellishments that include thousands of tiny, sinuous brush strokes, and colorful hand-stitches that hold beads and sequins to the paper. Part requiem and part cathartic obsession, Michelle worksto simultaneously test the imprint of herown presence while using mark making to record the passage of time. A meticulous attention to detail invites the viewer to get up close and intimate with the work. It is at this range where she is able to provide a space for poetic engagement in order to evoke in the viewer the sentiment of loss and grief.

Recently Michelle has also begun developing an entirely new body of work based on the patterns taken from her husband’s shirts. These pieces are varied in both stylistic and material approach and consist of paintings on linen, wood, and weavings. Much more intimate in scope than her previous works, the process of making these paintings is a labor of love. Built by mixing a new palette for each painting session, slight variations in color are visible in their surfaces and each completed work becomes a monument to the labor that comprises it. Overall, she equates the process of creation as a point of identification with others, rather than solely about the craft of painting and using repetition to fill a void marked by the inadequacies of commemorating past events or comprehending the experiences of others. It is in these private, performative acts of creation where Michelle hides her fears, occasionally finding herself slipping into a state of reverie.

Born in Vancouver BC in 1972, Michelle Forsyth holds an MFA from Rutgers University and a BFA from the University of Victoria. She currently resides in Pullman, Washington, where she teaches painting and drawing at Washington State University.

For the past thirty years, Christopher Watts has been working with systematically based art involving the incorporation of numbers in grids, sequences and at times, colour. The work has evolved from monochromatic pattern images that used numerical locations and loading systems in grids to the inclusion of a colour code system influenced by esoteric ideas found in the Cabbala, Anthroposophy, and Theosophy. The additional layering of mystically inclined colour on top of numerical marks, located within the gridded image field, reveals unexpected geometrical relationships.

Chris Watts’ work represents a long-term interest in patterning, order and to a certain degree spiritual or esoteric ideas.  His images use numbers to explore location and sequential relationships—referencing cellular structure or even the double helix of DNA.  The forms are not biomorphic but relate more to crystalline arrangements and deeper levels of order found in nature.  Some viewers become involved in the process of uncovering how the images are constructed - a puzzle.  However, Watts is very interested in stimulating those deeper contemplative moments where the viewer’s thoughts drift inward—perhaps into their own interpretation as to the place that patterns of all types, including those in nature, have in our experience.

In recent years, Christopher has also incorporated the use of spiral forms to act as a guide for locating numbers in grids, and at different times he has used as many as four spiral tracks that have been included in one grid, but more recently he has settled on the incorporation of one or two interlocking forms. Currently his interests have led him to the study of a Boustrophedon configuration where linear sequences move back and fourth across the visual field.

In an effort to broaden the influence that order, placement, and patterning have had on the evolution of his inquiries, Watts takes interest in subjects such as Bronze Age stone monuments, spirals and mazes, Pythagoras, counting processes, scientific structures, bell ringing, Theosophy, sound, the geometrical tradition in art, and of course pattern. This echo back to historical and/or ancient times invites questions about the interest of early peoples in order and conceptual ideas concerning the organization of the world in general.  As an artist, the final question for Christopher has always been, “ Am I the originator of the visual structure being discovered or am I just uncovering what already existed? ”

Watts studied at Plymouth College of Art, University of London/Goldsmiths College, and Ohio University, and taughtpreviously at the University of Rhode Island, University College London/Slade School of Fine Art, Trent Polytechnic, Gloucestershire College of Art, Cornish College of Arts, and Middle Tennessee State University.  He is currently a member of the art faculty at Washington State University.