Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center, Hendersonville
August 5 through October 1
Her paintings regularly sell in the range that would make most mid-career artists a little green with envy. She has appeared on countless television programs around the world, with the Discovery Channel proclaiming her an “artistic genius.” Not bad for a sixteen-year-old.
WORDS Leigh R. Hendry
Promising teenage painting prodigy Autumn de Forest received her innate creativity “honest,” to paraphrase an old Southern aphorism. Descended from a distinguished though lesser-known American artistic dynasty (perhaps not as heralded as the storied Wyeth family of American artists, though some might argue equally accomplished), the almost-16-year-old Las Vegas painter could be characterized as a modern-day embodiment of the ancestors who preceded her.
De Forest, who has been painting since she was five, has already reached milestones that other artists dream of achieving at any age. For example, two years ago she received the Vatican-sponsored International Giuseppe Sciacca Award given annually to an outstanding artist or scholar age 35 and under, and had an audience with Pope Francis, where she presented one of her paintings. At the other end of the achievement spectrum, she has collaborated with American shoe manufacturer Converse to produce a graphic design for the company’s Chuck Taylor All Star sneakers, which sold out at nationwide retailer Nordstrom. Clearly, there’s no grass growing under the high-tops of this young lady, who often describes herself as a “roller coaster that only goes up.”
De Forest’s artistically inclined heritage includes two great-great-uncles and two cousins, respectively: Lockwood de Forest (1850–1932), notable Luminist landscape painter, interior designer, and Tiffany Glass Company partner; Robert Weeks de Forest (1848–1931), lawyer to John D. Rockefeller and president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, who envisioned the institution’s American Wing and oversaw its 1924 opening; painter and sculptor Roy de Forest (1931–2007), a prominent member of the California Expressionist school, best known for his eye-poppingly bright canvases brimming with dogs accompanied by other fantastical creatures; and George de Forest Brush (1855–1941), a medal-winning Western school painter in the style of Frederic Remington, whose striking oils of Plains Indians reportedly influenced American illustrator N.C. Wyeth. Brush, by virtue of his birth in Shelbyville, Tennessee, just 57 miles southeast of Davidson County, is also the ancestor who provides de Forest with a slightly obscure, yet interesting, connection to the Volunteer State.
With no formal art training, only the considerable creative inheritance of her significant forebears echoing through her mind and a dearth of self-education and study, de Forest has spent the past decade diligently producing an already substantial body of work. Like many artists, she craves visits to museums where she can soak up the techniques and subject matter incorporated in the works of others, which sometimes serve as a starting point for her own paintings. Her subject matter oscillates between color-filled, abstract canvases and more representational pieces, and she occasionally merges both styles simultaneously into a single work. Visitors to de Forest’s solo exhibition at the historic Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville will have an opportunity to view more than 65 of her paintings, all completed during the past four years.
When she’s not traveling (she maintains an extensive schedule of events, philanthropic commitments, and personal appearances which keep her on the go), de Forest says she is always eager to get into her studio on a daily basis, often as early as 7 a.m., where she paints about six hours each day in one- to two-hour bursts of creativity. Her preferred acrylic paint brand, Golden Artist Colors, offers paints with a high-quality, enviable creamy consistency, as well as a vast range of gesso and gel products that she utilizes to bring added interest, texture, dimension, and depth to her canvases.
She says that her work continues to evolve and change, specifically noting that her color palette has advanced from the “girly, Barbie-like” color range she favored earlier in her career to a more Pop Art- influenced palette, reminiscent of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and reflected in her most recent paintings. Her 2015 acrylic on canvas Gold Barbie Marilyn Ver. II #1, an homage to the ultimate trinity of “branded” American idols—Warhol, Marilyn Monroe, and Mattel, Inc.’s fashion doll, Barbie—is memorable not only for its fusion of fame subject matter, but also for its extreme vertical format of 40” high by just 19” wide. De Forest says she counts the early work of German visual artist Gerhard Richter, known for his non- adherence to any singular painting style, and anonymous British-based graffiti artist and political activist Banksy among her two strongest artistic influences right now.
She is clearly attuned to current world events, which is evident during her conversation with Nashville Arts, as she discusses the appearance of social commentary as an emerging aspect in some of her latest works. Like artists throughout the ages, de Forest said she firmly believes that “tolerance and acceptance in the world at large can be altered through visual imagery and ideas.”
She is also deeply intrigued by the subject of psychology, particularly the esoteric perceptual phenomenon of synesthesia (in one variation of the condition some individuals perceive numbers and letters as colored), which figures prominently in Color Blind, one of the standouts from her forthcoming Tennessee exhibition. In the work entitled Drive, de Forest says she intended it to reference the physical act of operating an automobile, as well as the motivational desire necessary for accomplishment in one’s life.
Among the highlights of her young career thus far (meeting the Pope notwithstanding), de Forest cites her solo exhibition at the Youngstown [Ohio] Butler Institute of American Art as a seminal moment. There’s a distinct note of girlish wonderment in her voice, especially for one so preternaturally mature, as she recalls what Dr. Louis A. Zona, Executive Director of the Butler, said when her show opened there last year: “You are the future of American art.” So it seems that the de Forest family legacy will endure for yet another generation to come.
Her White Room: The Art of Autumn de Forest is on view August 5 through October 1 at Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center in Hendersonville. The artist will be present for the opening reception from 6 until 9 p.m. on August 5. For more information, visit www.hendersonvillearts.org and www.autumndeforest.com.