Earth-Father Activist Creates Art Through Space, Time and Decay

In an almost compulsive drive to create, Jeff Forster has produced a warehouse full of ceramics, sculptures, photographs and time-based installations; the resulting body of work can be seen at Mother Dog Studios in his retrospective exhibit, "A Decade of Decomposition and New Growth."

Along the greenbelt behind his Kingwood home, Forster has become a Johnny Appleseed of sorts, compensating for trees that died in the drought a few years ago and were bulldozed. In his daily walks he pulls a cart with the sign “Tree Re-Populous Program,” armed with tree saplings, nutrient-rich water and mulch from ground up stumps. To date he has planted more than 500 trees, which he turns and shapes like Bonsai to create living sculptures. In the back of his mind, he hopes to eventually turn some of these formed trees into new sculptures. Within the exhibit, This is Not a Toy features a long peninsula of unfired clay, dotted with green tree trimmings and a toy bulldozer; with each passing day the leaves begin to die and the earth dries into a cracked and decimated environment.

Forster’s earliest pieces are minimalist and rudimentary, though beginning to incorporate the industrial feel of his later works. In the entrance hall, Wreckage and the Ball takes center stage with its rusty patina of junkyard abandonment, surrounded by sculptures that could have been lifted from an oversized machine. Along the wall, spilling from a found bucket, are delicate palm fronds that had been dipped in slip before firing, yielding delicate and fragile shards.

Arranged in the small hallway are his Molten Paintings or Paintings in Flux. As ceramics chair at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Glassell School of Art, Forster has the opportunity to work with and inspire students. He often places a slab of clay at the back of the kiln, purposely allowing it to absorb the overspray glaze from his students’ work. In other pieces he incorporates discarded glazed clay from the classroom; the results are unpredictable and surprising. Most of the ceramics have an archaeological feel to them, as if discovered at the base of a pre-Incan ruin, while others possess a painterly feel with their pops of bright orange and green.

The largest of his works can be found in the large hall, including Detritus Accumulus, which incorporates found objects and emulates the piles found on big trash pick-up day. At the end of this hall is Shift, consisting of 3 monolithic abstract forms arranged on the ground and suspended precariously from wires to create a static vortex through which the viewer can walk.

Some of Forster’s most exciting work has occurred outdoors, and his document technique of capturing the memory of their decline and decay is quite effective. In one series of photographs, he duplicated the layers of earth found on the mountainside, documenting the piece’s erosion by the elements. Other collections capture a natural scene as it morphs and changes through the seasons, or have superimposed the longitude and latitude of their origin.

A closing reception is scheduled on Saturday, August 15, from 10 a.m. to noon.

A Decade of Decomposition and New Growth continues through August 15, at Mother Dog Studios, 720 Walnut. By appointment, 713-229-9760 or 618-910-9229. Visit www.jeffforster.com.

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