Carla Forrest’s pieces have the tiles of color and incised lines one might expect from a palette knife painting, but a chat with the New Mexico artist reveals an even more complex painting process.
“Ghost Ranch Grace,” by Carla Forrest, 2013, oil on panel, 10 x 12 in.
Forrest, who attributes her love of painting with a palette knife in part to her study of sculpture, is inspired by Emile Gruppe’s color palette and the Pointillists’ method of placing two colors side by side to let the eye blend them into another color. She’s a first-generation Russian who favors Russian impressionism.
“Ice Plants,” by Carla Forrest, 2013, oil on panel, 8 x 10 in.
“Spring Surge,” by Carla Forrest, 2013, oil on panel, 6 x 8 in.
“Earlier in my career I taught color theory, and I think I just have a deep understanding of the light spectrum and how light plays against each other to create color,” she says. “I use that to create nuances in my work. It is different from others who work in a traditional mode of painting — I come from a very contemporary trend in art. When I see my colleagues working in the field, I realize my work is on the contemporary end of the scale. In a way it feels a little lonely, but I feel like I am emerging into a 21st-century version of plein air instead of an 18th-century version of plein air, moving in a direction that is unique to me.”
“Arroyo La Luz,” by Carla Forrest, 2013, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in.
Forrest starts by drawing a thumbnail sketch in her pad using a carpenter’s pencil. She then draws the composition on her surface, using a blue pencil. Next comes a tonal underpainting in diluted gray paint. Then comes a layer depicting the scene in complementary colors. She waits a few minutes to let this set up a bit. For the last layer, Forrest picks up the palette knife and uses water-miscible oils with a resin gel medium added to allow for plenty of impasto. “I start light with the knife, then I get more excited and start carving in and creating details on the panel with grooves,” says the artist. “I will also go back into an area as needed and use a brush to knock down high points, with an eye toward the archival properties of the painting. I don’t want a little peak of impasto paint to break off.”
“Approaching Moab,” 2012, oil on panel, 10 x 8 in.
“Below the Dam,” by Carla Forrest, 2013, oil on panel, 16 x 12 in.
Between the texture created with the palette knife and Forrest’s saturated palette, the resulting look is distinctive. “It seems to hang together for me, the three-dimensionality and the color palette,” she says. “My palette comes from what I see in the Southwestern landscape. You see the full spectrum of colors here, not just greens and blues. I just love New Mexico; it is a painter’s paradise. I don’t have to travel very far to find different shapes and colors in the landscape.”