Fran Forman, a Boston-based artist recently took some time to answer a few questions from the New Vilna Review about her work and a new show at the gallery at Mayyim Hayyim in Newton, Massachusetts. In addition to being a widely-known working artist Ms. Forman is also a Resident Scholar at the WomenÕs Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. You can find out more about her work by visiting her website at www.franforman.com.
NVR: The show that you currently have at Mayyim Hayyim is entitled ŌThe Alchemy of Memory,Ķ what inspired this title and for those who havenÕt had a chance to visit the gallery yet, can you describe the overall theme/imagery which informs this particular collection of images (if there is one)?
Within the intersection of old portraiture and contemporary technology, I attempt to interpret the realm where the physical and spiritual frequently collide. The photographic images presented in this exhibition represent a small segment of a larger body of work, in which I combine fragments of dreams and memories to create personal visual narratives. The images here suggest our relationship to the natural world, to water and to other species. My hope is that each picture will inspire the viewer to stop, look, contemplate, and perhaps create his or her own personal narrative, from their own alchemy of memories.
NVR: You work in collage, but the pieces you have on display at Mayyim Hayyim certainly do not look like they are patched together – is this seamless look an effect you tried to create on purpose?
Thank you! This is precisely my intention. By seamlessly connecting disparate objects and people from different centuries and locations, my images comment on the continuum of time and the connectedness of generations. I want the characters to become part of the new worlds I create for them, to be integrated within them, to reinforce our interrelationships and connections.
NVR: How does the concept of time fit into your work?
Reflecting on the continuum of time, itÕs inevitability, and our connections and interconnectedness – these themes appear in every one of my pieces. I doubt if this issue would have been so prevalent in my work when I was younger.
NVR: You use a very interesting technique to create the images which appear in the show currently at Mayyim Hayyim, can you describe this technique and how you came to use it? These images merge painting with photography, although the finished image can be considered photographic. How?
The images often begin with discarded 19th and early 20th century photographic portraits, scavenged from old family albums and flea markets. I collect portraits of family members and people that I find intriguing, ambiguous or mysterious. I then scan the images - often of poor quality - at a very high resolution, and begin the laborious task of altering the portrait. I play with the characters as if sprites on a stage. I experiment with different backdrops and settings, using my photographs or paintings, which I collage and reassemble. My characters go through weeks of revisions, as I move them through many worlds, playing with narrative and composition. I do not use ordinary paint or brushes: I substitute the mouse and stylus for brushes, light for my palette, the tablet and monitor for a canvas, and photographic paper for the finished canvas. The final images are an amalgam of photography and painting with pixels, digitally assembled. Images are then output on archival cotton rag paper, printed with pigmented inks, taking care to maintain crisp, luminous and saturated coloration.
NVR: Can you tell us a little about your background as an artist and what some of your main sources of inspiration might be?
Briefly: Undergraduate studies at Brandeis with a major in Sociology, but mostly caught up in the activism and turmoil of the 60s. After a few dead-end jobs, went to Simmons for an MSW, and then two years working in a drug treatment program in Cambridge. A year of travel and then discovered graphic design as a discipline, which ignited my creativity as it combined fine art with my interests in social groups, psychology, communication, and commerce (and the potential to earn a living). (As a kid, I had spent a lot of time drawing and doodling., but never thought of art as a career.) Received an MFA from BUÕs School for the Arts, and then worked in various design capacities – branding (logo design), signage and print design. By the late 80s, IÕd embraced computer technology and its potential for image-making, photographic manipulation, and animation. During the 90s, I designed multimedia installations and CD-ROMs, honing my digital skills and rediscovering my passion for illustration and photo collage. As the world of network connectivity took over, I moved into web design. I became the Designer of a wonderful, cutting-edge site, Africana.com, which was owned by AOL Time Warner. I redesigned the site and created new illustrations daily highlighting each new article. Due to a decline in advertising revenue, the site was closed in Õ05. Since then, in addition to free-lancing as a web designer, IÕve devoted myself to my own personal art. I continue to spend much of my time in front of the computer, which functions as a set of art tools, of course, but which also serves to connect me to the larger world of photography and art. An incredible amount of inspiring work is being shown online, and now I can peruse museums and galleries in places IÕll never have a chance to visit. Almost every day, IÕm blown away by the work of some artist in places as diverse as Ukraine or Turkey or Texas. I owe a debt to them all.
NVR: Besides the show at Mayyim Hayyim, where else can people view your work? Do you have other shows coming up in the near future?
I currently have work on exhibit at Left Bank Gallery in Wellfleet, at Iris Gallery in Boston and Great Barrington, and of course here in my studio in Watertown. IÕm excited about an upcoming solo exhibition at the Thompson Gallery at Cambridge School of Weston, with an artist reception and opening Dec 16 and running until March 11. This exhibition is part of the galleryÕs yearlong exploration of History as Medium and is curated by artist, art historian, and teacher Todd Bartel.
NVR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I'm often drawn to images from the mid-19th century - partly because this is the period when photography became ubiquitous and available to ordinary' Americans, who could then, for the first time in their lives, afford to have their likenesses sealed in a moment in time - to give to a loved one, to cherish and remember. But this was also the time of economic upheavals, urban expansion, burgeoning industrial centers, social and political unrest in this country (some things never change). I also love the artifacts generated by the early photographic processes –cracks and light leaks, occasional chemical spills, scratches and fading, weathered textures – muted tones with occasional splashes of vibrant color, hand-painted by unknown artists. As these accidental artifacts or evidence of aging evoke the passing of time, I embrace them and sometimes attempt to replicate them. My images pay tribute to the collage artists and pictorialists of the late 19th century, as well as the surrealists several decades later. My work also draws inspiration as much from color field painters as it does from the photographers who use vibrant color, visual narratives and symbolism to contemplate the human condition. I therefore tip my (virtual) hat to the juxtaposed assemblages of Joseph Cornell, the paintings of Rene Magritte and Mark Rothko, and the poetry and photography of Duane Michals.