^ Forrest Kirk, Judge, Jury, and Executioner, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist.

OTP short-forms: Forrest Kirk


An interview with the LA-based painter Forrest Kirk.

Near-Death, Courbet Copy Paintings and the Elite Motif.

Born in San Diego, CA (1975), Forrest Kirk’s paintings construct forceful social narratives. Citing the influence of Kerry James Marshall and Gerhard Richter (“I believe [they] are the greatest living artists.”) on his own distinct pattern of abstract figuration, Kirk has described his work as adopting an “attract more with honey than vinegar” approach.

OTP What’s Important to you?

FK It’s important to me to be a spiritual being, and to be connected to the world around me. It’s important for me to love my family and friends.


With that said, it’s also important for me to create work that reflects those important things in my life. 

OTP You famously transitioned from a weekend painter, of sorts, to a full-time artist after a near-death experience. Could I ask you to talk a little bit about what happened?

FK Wow, you’ve done your research, lol...Yeah, a lot of people don’t know but I was a software engineer for a long time. One day, driving on the freeway on my way home from work, I experienced what I describe as “near-death”.

While driving I suddenly had a terrible pain in my chest and stomach, and my vision got blurry. I was able to swerve and very thankfully (luckily) get myself to the side of the freeway.


While on the side of the freeway, in what felt like forever I was waiting in terrible pain, partially blind, and throwing up.

Sitting there in my car I suddenly had this calming feeling come over my body, and I thought about my life, my kids, and my family. Then I thought to myself, if this is it (death), are you ready to go? Surprisingly, I answered “yes”, but I was also disappointed that I wasn’t devoting enough time to my passion.

Then after a little while longer the pain subsided, and my faculties came back to me. When I finally made it home, I promised to myself to go “all in” with my passion. 


^ Forrest Kirk, Girl Next Door, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

OTP I have read an interview where you mentioned painting ‘on the streets of Montmartre’ - were you heavily influenced by graffiti culture at the time?

FK No, I was infatuated with Courbet and Degas at that point. So I would go there and paint portraits and landscapes. Don’t tell anyone, but I actually still have complete Courbet copy paintings I did, lol…


That time in my life has a huge impact on my work now. Paris is where I learned the formal/technical aspects of painting i.e. line, depth of composition, light source, etc... I also learned to use impressionistic and alla prima techniques.

OTP What is your impression of Paris having lived there? 

FK I lived there for a year. I love Paris, it’s a beautiful city with some amazing people. Like so many other Black American artists i.e. James Baldwin, etc. from the Harlem Renaissance, I found a haven in Paris. 


A place where I could live and work without the social/racial baggage that black people are saddled with here in America, it was very freeing. Probably one of the best times of my life.


^ Forrest Kirk, Moving the Black Power Piece, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

OTP What’s the best exhibition you’ve been to recently? 

FK Hmmm, it’s a tie between ‘With Pleasure’ by Robin F Williams here in LA at VSF Gallery, and ‘The marks of a stranger' by Jesse Mockrin in New York at Nathalie Karg Gallery. 

OTP You’re currently working towards a 2020 show at Nathalie Karg Gallery - Maybe I could ask you to talk a little bit about the work you’re producing for this exhibition?

FK Yes, I can’t wait, I’m working on the show now - it's slated to open April 29th (give or take a day or two).


The work I’m producing for the show is following a style of painting that I call the ‘elite motif’. My past solo show(s) have been narrative driven. I have to describe this new show as visceral and primitive, with highly technical surfaces.


Honestly, I’ve never seen anything like these paintings. I’m very excited about the work, and I get all happy and tinglely whenever I see them. 

OTP Are there any other artists you’re particularly excited about at the moment? 

FK I love the moment that Kehinde Wiley is having. I’ve never seen an artist reveal a statue in Time Square. That completely blew my mind.


OMG, I love the sculpture Wangechi Mutu did in the façade on the MET in New York, seriously amazing.


Also, I’m loving the new paintings by Simphiwe Ndzube, Tschabalala Self, Robin F. Williams, and Sayre Gomez, they’ve been killing it!


^ Forrest Kirk, Mugshot, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Robert Wedemeyer.

OTP I have read that you prefer listening to films whilst painting to music/podcasts etc. What are you playing at the moment?

FK It’s true, especially movies that are very entertaining and upbeat. I’ve recently added The Girl in the Spider’s Web and Ronin to the short list of films I play on repeat.

OTP Any closing words for the reader?

FK Follow your passion! 


If you’d like to check out my work or reach out to me @artbyforrest on Instagram or email: forrest@artbyforrest.com