Artist Nicholas Forker Pays Homage to the Era of Space Exploration

Eric Russ

 

Brooklyn-based artist Nicholas Forker has a rare talent, and it is one that is quickly earning him recognition in a city that is virtually filled to the brim with aspiring young artists.  In today’s art landscape, traditional skills like figurative drawing are not always as visible as they once were.  Benefiting as he does from undeniable technical ability, and a reverence for the way things used to be done, Forker creates masterful works in ballpoint, in some cases pouring hundreds of hours into a single work. 

 

What has caught his attention lately is the way that adventurers, and in his most recent work, astronauts in particular, can be used as a stand-in for American culture.  

“I wanted to talk about the United States, talk about conquest, talk about exploration,” Forker explains.  “I thought the astronaut was a really interesting subject because it perfectly sums up the United States and its story arc from the 1950s to the present day.”  After World War II, space exploration became an American preoccupation and continued to define scientific and military achievement throughout the Cold War.  “When the space program kind of dissolved a little in the past few years,” Forker adds, “we saw this figure become a modern-day Don Quixote and just kind of fade from relevance.”

 

Beyond its cultural significance, the astronaut has proven to be a fruitful subject in a formal respect as well.  “The folds of the suit and the metallic nature of it add these kind of Renaissance qualities,” he explains.  Indeed, a seated astronaut donning the slimmer-fitting 1960s era spacesuit that Forker favors makes fertile ground for an artist of his ability.  The interplay of light and dark recall the history of art’s long preoccupation with drapery and folds.  

In using the figure of a faceless astronaut as a kind of everyman, Forker has found a language through which he can talk about growing up in America, and muse about what it means to be living at the end of an era that so revered space travel, while entering into new and unknown territory.

 

“With our evolutionary paradigm, the way things work is that one thing is dominant and one thing recedes and comes to replace it, so I’m curious as to what will replace the astronaut as the new explorer,” he muses. 

 

The idea of employing that character, the space traveler, as a cultural metaphor, has led Forker to at times explore the humor of the American experience.  In a new and as yet unfinished piece, a group of astronauts pose to have their team picture taken, one holding a basketball under his arm.  Another theme that Forker has returned to is the astronaut holding a baseball bat on his shoulder. 

“My dad forced me to play baseball when I was a kid, like forever, and I hated it,” he reminisces.  “I’m just not a sports guy.  I could do it well enough to not get yelled at, but that’s all I wanted to do, just that well.  My dad was my coach, so growing up my father-son relationship was him screaming at me to cover second.”  One wonders whether Forker’s lukewarm relationship with team sports is the very reason he has now beset his astronauts with these very same quintessential American experiences.

 

Growing up in suburban Chicago, Nicholas Forker had in many ways a childhood that many of us can relate to.  Unlike most suburban kids, however, Forker was raised to appreciate the old way of doing things.  “My grandfather owned land,” he recalls, “and we had a house on that land right next to his house.  So I grew up with him every day because my parents would both work, and I would hang out with my grandfather.  He treated that land like it was a small farm.  He had these huge gardens that were just tracts planted with every kind of plant, and he had livestock.  It was a really interesting kind of thing where I was essentially raised on a farm in a bustling suburb, and then I was right next to a major city.  That upbringing really taught me a ton of stuff.  You kind of get the salt-of-the earth perspective from a young age, and it has a play in my work.”

In his latest series, Forker has turned space exploration inward, plumbing the depths of the human body.  To do this, he has stuck with the astronaut motif, but has turned to X-ray images of the spacemen inside their suit.  Once again using ballpoint, though now including permanent marker ink, applied with a sponge brush to create the black background of an X-ray, he draws the astronauts’ skeletal hands and forearms surrounded by the metal casing of their suit.  This kind of inner exploration helps get at the existential underpinnings of space exploration. 

 

“It’s just kind of the next stage in thinking on this subject.  It’s brought me to the importance of, not external exploration, but internal exploration.”  Mojo Hand has been selected to be part of the Wide Open Art Show 2012 at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition -- an event curated by Charlotta Kotik, former chairman of the Contemporary Art Department at the Brooklyn Museum, which opens March 18th.  Forker has also helped to curate “Great Promise,” a group exhibition at The Watermill Center in New York City on April 25th.   

 

It is clear that Nicholas Forker does not like to cut corners.  His drawings are the fruit of an astonishing amount of labor, a fact that, in today’s art world, sets him apart from the majority of his contemporaries.  He relishes making things the right way, believing that quality comes from hard work.  While he is open to exploring other media, he seems determined to involve drawing as the basis of his process. 

“I like the drawing as a medium because it’s timeless,” he says.  “It’s something we’ve been doing since before we could speak. It’s the oldest form of human expression.  So I like that about it.  It’s necessary.  It’s what it means to be human.  But then I also believe that you cannot truly express your age if you’re confined by a medium that is of a previous age.”

 

Rather than restrict himself to drawing alone, Forker is exploring new ways of expanding his practice into new media, moving beyond static images and into an arena that could evolve into a whole new direction for his art.  His current project is something he is guarding as a secret for the time being, and when I asked him how he had made one of the pieces, he smiled and said, “that’s proprietary.”  When the new body of work is ready, Forker looks forward to showing the world what’s next for an artist who is determined to breathe new life into the medium of drawing.  Until then, we will just have to be patient and enjoy the already exciting body of work he has completed. 

Author Bio:

Eric Russ is Highbrow Magazine’s art critic. He attended New York University, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in ‘The Sense of Self,’ an interdisciplinary investigation of human identity.  He holds a Master’s Degree in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art.

Photo Credits: Clint Spaulding, Eric Chakeen, and Nicholas Forker

​Photo on main page by Clint Spaulding

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