In Daniel Forbes’ work, a record appears, describing how certain societal conventions play a crucial role in the way we compose our self-image over the course of our lifetimes.
Certain questions emerge. How can a single religious tradition on one hand warn us repeatedly of the dangers hidden within our own nature and on the other preach radical acceptance? How is it that we are simultaneously offered to partake of luxury yet barred from partaking of it by a harmful self-image imposed upon us through the very images used to advertise that luxury? What will remain after these conflicts run their course?
If, through introspection, we come to the conclusion these forces have played a negative role in the creation of our very being, what can we do to move beyond the pain and find joy in who we are? One potential answer is hinted at by both Forbes’ work and his role as Director of Sheehan Gallery at Whitman College. Contemplating the progress of Forbes’ work through the years, I sense a curation of sorts in progress...
In 1993, Forbes graduated from Whitman with a BA in Studio Art with an emphasis in sculpture and ceramics. Around this time, I met Forbes at the Walla Walla Foundry, where we worked on artwork by artists such as Debbie Butterfield, Jim Dine, and Nancy Graves. At this time, Forbes’ focused on imagery from the Book of Revelation, specifically the Four horses of the Apocalypse, work crafted by welding found objects into artistic forms. Our conversations tended to be introspections around the role of religion in our lives. In my own case, I had an outsider’ view of religion, while Forbes’ perspective was informed by an upbringing in the church. Forbes bio on the Whitman College website notes “His personal work … often follows darker veins and explores the complicated territories of gender, identity, psychology, ritual, fetishism, and the extraordinary body.”
While Forbes’ work from this period certainly can occupy a dark psychological space, the other end of the spectrum was evident as well, for horses are beautiful. I do detect that sense "his attachment to and high regard for the animal other."
Other work from this time, including works such as "In Search of Peace" invite us to further examine the spectrum of roles religion can play in our concept of self, representing both pain and salvation. This period seems to represent the beginning of a journey to acceptance, a journey that passes through a gauntlet comprised of the slings and arrows of body image.
Charting Forbes’ progress, another quality makes a frequent appearance, coloring the various themes Forbes chooses to portray. That quality is humor. In the series entitled "The Pinks," Forbes tackles body image using headless, armless stuffed pink shirts and inflatable figures placed strategically in a variety of settings; their message is communicated through context. Still, even as we’re asked to confront body image with a note of humor, that humor comes with an edge. In Off The Deep End, we find a poolside setting, reminiscent of an advertising image we might see in a glossy fashion magazine. The figures we see lounging poolside, on the diving board... Forbes confronts us with our own reactions as we realize these figures occupy an unusual position, representing imperfect bodies presented in a frame usually reserved for thinner, more idealized bodies, chosen for their ability to sell a product. Even in Zipposuction, a straightforward piece that speaks to the urge to sculpt our bodies, confronts its subject lightheartedly.
Taking in the scope of Forbes’ work, a progress can be seen. As the years accumulate, the harder edges, the pain, the grit seems to be washed away. More joy, a greater sense of freedom, an inclination to explore appears. As we approach the present day, Forbes delves into collage as his medium. A new sense of wonder emerges, and as an observer, I get the impression a chapter has closed, as a quality of lightness and renewal begins to inform the work. I sense we’re at the beginning. Fitting for a beginning, the image appearing on the cover of the most recent edition of The Oddville Press is entitled Some Assembly Required, but I get the sense that even now at this point of a new beginning, Forbes can appreciate a sense of completion. I'm happy for him, and I'm excited for what comes next.
J. Matthew McKern, Director of The Oddville Press