AF went over the hills, through the woods and dived into the gritty bosom of the LES for the second solo exhibition of Seth Michael Forman at frosch & portmann last October 17th. Over the Hills featured intimate, wry and rich colored landscapes of New England by Forman to illustrate a fanciful fable.
Falls Village Bear Scare (2009-2013) featured a man with hands up in the air screaming at a black bear in his path amidst a rich blue background of sky and a folk like treatment of the landscape. This Neo-American Folk Art style fits in with the narrative and chosen tableaux of scenes that are disturbing yet charming. But there are layers of historic references and alludes to earlier work. I will dare say that when I saw this piece on the show card and at the entrance of the gallery, I immediately gravitated to it. The dual idiom of who’s really scared here can either be the human being or the bear itself provides a dark humor aspect that really draws you in. Some parts reminded me of an 1814 masterpiece painting by Francisco Goya, The Third of May 1808. (currently at the Museo del Prado, Madrid) The lone man in the white shirt holding up his hands in horror before the firing squad could be equivalent to the man in the bathrobe but facing the bear. Goya’s paintings are rife with savage emotion but Forman has charmed us with the twisted fable he illustrates between man and beast.
Speaking of man and beast, Forman also reminded me of Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings where the vegetation and scenery is based off a garden and not indigenous to an actual jungle. It evoked the same charm with a folk art aspect. Forman creates his own mark with the rich dark turquoise sky, far idyllic fields, and the hearty trees that are adjuncts to the vibrant story in his paintings. It is smart, darkly humorous but still palatable in its familiar comforts. There is a great balance between the scenic components around the central subjects not overpowered by the setting. It is a dark fable worth visiting and by all means ripe for exploration.
Forman may have invited us all to go over the hills with this new series of work but he also scaled the mountain peaks as well. There is a great respect for evoking a new zest for American Folk Art and the desire to let us be amused by the uncomfortable proximity of scenes we can find disturbing but not able to look away from. But the point is, he made me look and did I ever let my eyes roll over the hills. And I’m glad that I did even if there’s a grizzly bear right at my face.
Seth Michael Forman: Over the Hills / On View: Oct. 17 – Nov. 24, 2013
Gallery Hours: Wednesday – Sunday (12 to 6 pm)
frosch & portmann. 53 Stanton Street. NYC, NY 10002
Art Review by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Select Art Images from frosch & portmann courtesy of the artist
Photography by: Olya Turcihin