STELLA SEVASTOPOULOS interviews Rosalind Forster, an artist who has divided her time between England’s Derbyshire and Greece’s Spetses, creating unique watercolours and linocut prints in the process:
EVERY now and then, you discover a new artist, and a whole new way of seeing the world through their work. I had such an experience recently, when I came across the work of Rosalind Forster, who has been sharing her time between the quiet Greek island of Spetses and the lush green countryside of Derbyshire since 1989, creating impressive watercolours and linocut prints in the process. Her current show at the Orloff restaurant in the old harbour of Spetses, is a great opportunity to get acquainted with her artistic practice, one which these days might have become tougher to pursue due to her rare bone cancer, but which has also helped her deal with her illness.
Born in 1948 in London, a graduate of the Walthamstow Art School, where Ian Dury (of the band Ian Dury and the Blockheads) also graduated, and where renowned pop artist Peter Blake also taught, Forster went on to study Art and Design at the Manchester school of art, and then embarked on her graphic design career in London. She then made the move to Derbyshire in 1973: “After some years working in London for a design group as a package designer I moved to Derbyshire as I wanted to buy a house, and prices in London were beyond me. I worked partly in London and at home. I eventually got fed up of yet another tin of dog food to design and gave that up. I worked freelance for the Theatre in Derby and the National park and set up a print workshop to print my posters with silk screen.” These posters for the Derby Playhouse and Winster Wakes have now become collector’s items.
In 1989, like a real-life Shirley Valentine, Forster was drawn to Spetses, after meeting her future husband there. Life on the picturesque Saronic isle, with its pine-clad landscapes, crystal clear sea and almost carless town centre, becomes all the more attractive: “I gradually spent more and more time in Spetses as it was such a lovely way of life – such fun while he was working on a tourist boat with Greek nights and lots of singing and dancing in the tavernas. But more importantly such wonderful inspiration for work. The light really knocked me out and I started painting and drawing there and then translating them into linocuts when back in England in my workshop.”
Forster had installed a grand Albion press in her home in Derbyshire, where she created her linocuts, via the use of the reduction process. This involves using the same block, but cutting away at it before you print with it many times, in order to be able to add many different colours (up to 16 in Forster’s works). It is a complex process which nevertheless creates some very bold and interesting images. Forster was drawn to this method of printing after seeing Picasso’s use of it: “I started making linocuts after seeing the Picasso show of them in London and another printmaking show at the Mall. I spent ages gazing at them and working out how they were done and thought ‘I want to do that’. My first ones were in simple black and white, printed with a wooden spoon, then I found a wonderful Albion press. The reduction method is a risky but also very expressive and exciting method of printmaking and after nearly forty years I feel confident in the technique.”
Forster’s watercolours are a different story – complex colour compositions full of delicate tonal variations and chromatic hues, that explore light’s myriads of patterns and effects. They are also odes to nature, with floral symphonies playing a dominant role: “I started painting in water colours after doing a lithography course which is a painterly printmaking technique and worked rather as a printmaker building up rich layers of colour. When painting a still life I work from it directly but also photograph it to fix shadows, as I work quite slowly and the flowers may die before it is finished.
Commissioned pieces and landscapes are usually worked from photographs because it is too hot to work plein air, especially with my way of painting and I do like to work quietly in my studio where I can concentrate and totally become engrossed with painting.”
Forster’s work has travelled the world, with shows in Australia, England and Greece in particular. It is also in state and private collections including the Mitchel Library, Sydney, Australia, the cruise ships P&O Orianna and Swan Hellenic Minerva as well as in various city councils, galleries and the Duke of Devonshire’s private collection: “Australia was a real turning point in terms of success and I loved the native flora. Seeing the enormous lily Gymea and drawing it in a cottage I was lent and my subsequent travels were pretty memorable. Being commissioned for paintings and linocuts on P&O Orianna and Swan Hellenic Minerva were high points for me.”
For Forster, art is about the experience of the beauty of life, and translating it into art that can communicate that beauty to its viewer: “The most important part of my practice. Well it’s just being able to work every day and respond to the beautiful places I find myself in, my love of nature and flowers. To have people love my work and want it. It thrills me that all over the world people have it in their homes and enjoy living with it.”
• The exhibition at the Orloff hotel runs till September 9
• You can also find Forster’s works on sale on various online galleries
• Check out also: rosalindforster.moonfruit.com