AFA: As an artist who has had at least 18 solo exhibits and counting, published, grant receiving (including a Fulbright fellowship), lecturer, and graduate of Cooper Union, could you discuss with us what motivates you towards success?
Robert Forman: I began making yarn paintings in 1969 while still in high school. I had been fooling around with paint in my parent's basement when one day I incorporated my mother's embroidery thread into a collage.
In college, at The Cooper Union, I first kept yarn painting to my self. My professors preferred my drawings to my paintings. My painting professor, Jack Whitten, asked what we did during vacation. I volunteered that I'd spent the vacation working on a project but it wasn't exactly painting. After visiting my studio Jack told me to stick to string and he would consider them paintings.
There are many ways to measure success as an artist. Being able to work full time on my art is a major sign of success. When I first saw a Huichol yarn painting at a Greenwich Village flea market I began a relationship changed the trajectory of both my life and art. The relationships between Huichol artists and myself demonstrate how art can open lines of communication and create mutual respect between disparate cultures.
AFA: As an interdisciplinary artist in the field of painting and fiber, what is your goal and fascination with creating art which straddles the border between such disciplines?
Robert Forman: I am often asked to categorize my work. Collage? Fiber Art? Multi- media?My pictures are made exclusively of yarn glued to board. It is the use of yarn, usually a craft media, and my personal identification with fine art, usually rendered with paint that makes categorizing my work difficult.
While my technique at The Cooper Union was yarn painting I received my BFA in painting. My NEA fellowship was in the painting category. The NJ Council on the Arts refuses to consider my work painting and has twice awarded me fellowships in the craft category. I consider myself a fine artist.
My unusual medium often takes front stage. I love the yarn technique and am always finding new ways to use it. Still, my hope is that the medium does not become the most memorable aspect of my work. My goal is to seamlessly interweave concept and technique into a work of art.
AFA: Your early works seems to focus mostly on interiors while your later works tend to offer shattered distortions of a variety of subjects, could you discuss the timeline of this strategy?
Robert Forman: My yarn painting technique grew out my drawings. The line of the yarn mimicked my pencil stroke. I liked the simplicity of looking and then rendering what I saw first in pencil and then in yarn.As I continued to glue yarn I discovered more possibilities. I made pictures using just the three primary colors alternating strings to create other colors. When I alternate two images I can render reflections. I began to merge multiple images to create a sense of time and motion.In Mexico my fellow yarn painters among the Huichol would ask me what the meaning behind my pictures were. I believe there was often a narrative in my work but since my time in Mexico it has become more central.As I grow as a person my art also evolves. My personal journey has become the focus of my newer work. I am excited by the yarns ability to merge images in ways that reflects our inner worlds.
AFA: You have participated in at least 16 lectures, is there a prevailing theme which come up within these forums?
Robert Forman: My talks highlight the deep connection between my life experience and the trajectory of my work. I enjoy telling the stories behind each picture. My experiences with Huichol artists are an important part of of my talks.
AFA: What sociological contexts does your work address?
Robert Forman: Concept and visual narrative are my focus. My goal is to mesh the technique and idea seamlessly so that they are of a piece. Whether working from one drawing or merging multiple images into one final piece, my goal is a painting that continually reveals itself over time.
My work is highly personal and reflects on my relationships, personal, historical and political over time. Many of my pictures reflect my personal and family history. The interactions with Huichol culture and how it mixes with my own history are often represented in my work. I admire and often incorporate images from Tibetan Tonka’s in my paintings. The psychedelic experience, both recreational and in sacred peyote ceremonies in a Huichol context also inform my work. The idea of multiple dimensions and the yarns ability to merge multiple images is my current obsession.