If the world is a stage and life is one big carnival, artist Doug Forrest has found a way to capture them both in his new exhibit Doug Forrest: Board-Walk Circus, on display at the Koelsch Gallery. Forrest has a colorful personal history that is apparent in his art. He is something of a renaissance man, dabbling in a little bit of every art form from performance to music and, most recently, the visual arts. Not only has he tried his hand at just about every medium, he has found successes in each one as well. His acting and improv took him as far as Chicago's Second City, his music career flourished with recordings and tours and now this.
Board-Walk Circus is Forrest's homage to the artistry of the three rings. Using his background as a performer, Forrest's work comments on the falsification of performance. To do so, he has erected large wood pieces that represent some of the most memorable aspects of the circus. The long striped pants of the man on stilts, the bowling pins used for juggling, the pronounced mustache of the strongman and a runaway red balloon, all recognizable circus fare which are transformed into large-scale wooden portraits. Forrest uses a method of treating the wood so it appears vintage or antique. He then paints the wood with acrylics allowing the blemishes of the wood to seep through. The results are unique.
Each of the pieces has its own tale to tell. A sexy bustier brings to mind the eye-candy often found at circuses, but the imperfections in the wood give it a sadness. In the piece "Lost Pride," a lion sits atop a red and white striped platform waiting to be "tamed." His facial features are faded and lost in the wooden grains.
There are two forces at work in this exhibit. The pieces are amusing and whimsical in their distressed look. You could easily picture them hanging on the wall of a posh, Nantucket home decorated in the style that is often called "shabby-chic." On the other hand, the pieces feel gloomy, almost depressing. The circus itself is a deception. We go looking for entertainment and cheerfulness. We know in our hearts that what goes on behind the red curtain is much different from what the "greatest show on Earth" is trying to display to its audience. Forrest has found a way to reveal the sad clown without being obvious about it, and without a hint of pretention.
Dough Forrest: Board-Walk Circus is at the Koelsch Gallery, 703 Yale now through July 14. Free. For more information visit koelschgallery.com
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