By Christopher Thrall –
Julian Forrest has a busy year ahead of him. Not only will the assistant professor of Fine Arts at Augustana produce a number of new paintings for an Edmonton show, but he has been invited to show his work at two international galleries, the first of which opened on June 8 in Berlin, Germany.
The Turn-Berlin Gallery invited Forrest and nine other international artists to their “Collective Spirit” exhibition. He chose nine pieces to present and will visit Berlin at the end of June to see his first international show. After a November showcase in Edmonton’s Harcourt House gallery, he will send a number of his paintings down to San Antonio, Texas, for the first solo international display of his work.
“I felt that it was useless waiting around for a golden finger to pick me, so I got really aggressive this year,” says Forrest. Instead of his normal five inquiries, he researched galleries and sent out 70 applications over the winter. The approach paid off in both gallery interest and in valuable lessons for his students.
“Part of the way I teach is to show students my studio,” says Forrest. “I show them my paintings and my ongoing work. I talk to them about my failures and my successes.” By sharing his stories, he shared the experience of being an artist with his students, which served as either inspiration or warning.
“I have started to hear from former students who have gone on to produce art,” says Forrest. “However, our program is about showing students a different way of seeing and relating to the world around them: it’s not necessarily about producing artists. One of my students is going for her Education degree, while another is enrolled a Masters program in English Literature at Queen’s.” This was the first year that Julian Forrest saw one of his classes – students that he has taught since they started – graduate from the Augustana Campus of the University of Alberta. He is a little saddened to see them go, and remembers some of the lessons that he taught them.
“I start off trying to build a basis,” he says. “What is art? How do you look at art? How do you compose art? I then teach students the skills they need while giving them more freedom of expression.” The program includes lessons on painting and drawing in various media, writing about art and even applying for grants. The final course for interested students is a “capstone” course where students synthesize all their learning, choose a medium and develop a body of work under Forrest’s guidance.
“When I started at Augustana, I thought I would be limited by the Faculty’s lack of a BFA in visual arts,” admits Forrest. “I don’t get many of what I would call first-year arts stars, but I do see a lot of intellectually curious students.” He has taught a number of students who took a fundamentals course and got excited, switching their minor – or sometimes their major – to visual arts. Most of them have no formal training. “These students surprise me, though, because they will throw themselves into a project. They have nothing to lose. By the time they are in their third and fourth years, they are turning out really interesting work.”
His students exceed his expectations in other ways as well. When budget cuts threatened the visiting artist program that Forrest began at Augustana, they stepped up to meet the challenge. They assembled and promoted an art auction, raffle and a drawing night for members of the community, to which the people of Augustana Campus and Camrose responded enthusiastically. These graduating students would not even benefit from the program next year, but they made enough to ensure it would continue for the next two.
Whether they follow him in pursuing international displays of their own work or not, Forrest hopes his students will benefit from being able to see and talk about art in an interesting way. “My goal is to train them to run with artistic challenges and work their buns off in order to do well,” he laughs. It is a valuable lesson, no matter what path they choose.