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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Graham Forsythe

Graham Forsythe on location
One of the lines I often used in teaching young people to paint, and to do so safely among pointed pencils, brush handles, palette knives, and the like, was: "Be careful with that, there's not much demand for blind artists." Indeed, art supplies can be dangerous. But the point I'm intent upon making here is the latter part of the quotation. Being an artist, most people would agree, presupposes that the individual can see. However art history is full of aging artists who continued to work long after their eyesight had largely failed them. Much more uncommon are those whose eyesight failed them from birth. One such artist is Graham Forsythe.

Voile de Montogne,
Graham Forsythe
For all intents and purposes, Graham Forsythe was born blind--1952, in a small town in Northern Ireland. What little vision he had was barely sufficient to allow him to move about unaided, mostly blurry, black and white shadows. At the age of six, Graham's family moved to the Toronto area of Canada where, from the time he was ten, the young boy worked at various jobs from harvesting potatoes to caddying at Toronto's exclusive Hunts Club. Despite his handicap, Graham worked his way through college, graduating in 1974 as a political science major. Often the physically handicapped and those who are visually impaired retreat into their own small, carefully contrived world where they engage in activities and occupations which lend themselves to whatever skills they've acquired reflecting their strengths rather than their limitations.

Safe Harbor, Graham Forsythe
That was not the case with Graham Forsythe. He decided to become a world traveler, working for periods of various length across Canada, the U.S., as well as Australia, and New Zealand. He worked as a logger, a commercial fisherman, and a farm hand, before returning to Toronto to open his own business as a paver. Around the same time, his creative urges got the better of him, whereupon he began to write mystery stories (his father was a homicide detective). Then, in 1970, at the age of 38, Forsythe became aware of a risky operation that might cure his visual impairment...or leave him with no vision whatsoever. Ever the adventurer, he took the risk. The operation was successful. He could see clearly for the first time in his life.

Somewhere I've heard the quotation, "No one appreciates beauty more than one who has never known it." Overwhelmed by the beauty he could never see, Graham Forsythe began to paint. Largely self-taught, Forsythe gravitated toward the landscape, painting nature, especially trees--lots and lots of trees. Woodland scenes almost completely dominate his work. And unlike the old saying, in Forsythe's case you can see the forest for the trees. There is the occasional abstract, the rare figure rendering, also still-lifes, fishing boats, beach scenes, and seascapes, but the vast majority of Forsythe's work reflects his wanderlust and his infatuation with the woodlands, all painted with a slightly soft focus reminiscent of his previous vision and his struggle to overcome it.

Forsythe is fond of the triptych, which here stands up quite nicely to the bright color competition of its environment.

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