This is the second of two recent exhibitions to focus on Forrester’s work from the 1980s (the first is currently on view at London’s Tramps gallery through 3 December). The exhibitions have been curated by the artist Peter Doig and White Columns’ director Matthew Higgs.
The White Columns exhibition will focus on Forrester’s work from the early 1980s, paintings and drawings made in direct response to the burgeoning dub reggae scene in London’s Afro-Caribbean communities. For many years Forrester made drawings in situ in London’s reggae dance halls and unlicensed ‘blues’ parties, where the soundtrack was invariably provided by the legendary dub DJ Jah Shaka (the subject of a number of key paintings by Forrester from this time).
Talking about this era in 1986, and the social and cultural context that his work drew from, Forrester said:
In 1980 I started going to all night ‘blues’ clubs. The music played in these clubs is reggae which generates particular dance movements and specialized clothing; all of which play an important part in my painting. In these clubs, city life is recreated in essence; sounds, lights, police sirens, bodies pushing and swaying back and forth. It’s a continuation of city life with some spiritual fulfilment. The idea of finding tranquil moments among a complex and cluttered environment is the basic structure for my paintings. The figures and images in my work are crowded together, whereas the spaces in between echo the music of the ‘blues’ clubs, but are also reminiscent of the light that breaks through a forest, or the light that reflects from a night club’s mirrored ball. So sound, nature and the city are linked.
In his early 1980s works, Forrester makes visible what might otherwise have remained fleeting or obscured: i.e. the social spaces, the nocturnal communities, and the shared experience of London’s dub subculture. In a parallel series of works – made concurrently with his dub paintings – Forrester focused on the policing of the Afro-Caribbean community in London, and in particular the 1981 death of his friend Winston Rose in police custody; both exposing and illuminating the social and political injustices faced by Britain’s Afro-Caribbean community at the outset of the Thatcher era.