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Tom Forrestall: Paintings, Drawings, Writings

Organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

January 30 to April 25, 2010

I paint because it creates a sense of joy, of relief during that original confrontation with reality. The act of painting is in itself a way to sustain that emotion of the mind and heart. Through my work I try to build a similar response in others.

Tom Forrestall, 1976, from Tom Forrestall: Paintings, Drawings, Writings (Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2008), 83.

Tom Forrestall’s works invite the viewer to go beyond the limitations of visual reality. What the eyes and mind perceive as real is extended into another dimension in which the possibilities of boundless meaning are unleashed.  His compositions lead the viewer to see the extraordinary beauty that is part and parcel of the minutia of everyday objects in life.

Forrestall’s images of Atlantic Canadian rural landscapes are infused with a mystical, transcendent and fascinating quality. They engage the viewer’s senses on multiple levels, the visual, the physical, and the auditory.  In Dog, Girl and Beach, the tidal waves can be heard and the shaped image emphasizes a strong tactility and mystery. The image captures a moment in time, a freeze frame of reality, leaving the narrative open for interpretation.

Magic Realism—an artistic movement in which magical elements appear in an otherwise realistic or “normal” setting—is an imprecise term that has often been used to classify Forrestall’s art along with the work of a group of East Coast Canadian painters who emerged after the Second World War: Alex Colville, Christopher Pratt, Mary Pratt, and their followers. Although they all have similar geographical roots, styles, and vocabularies, they apply themselves differently and adapt naturalism in their own personal way. 

Forrestall’s naturalistic adaptation combines reality, poetry, and a metaphysical dimension that transcends a spiritual and emotional energy to the viewer.  In The House at River Bend, one of his most recent paintings, there is an apparent tension and conflict that lies at the heart of this painting and his other works.  The tensions in his art give it its dynamism and power, between life and art; experience and imitation; between reality and the imagination. These divergent forces, activate and enliven the communication between the artist and the viewer through the imperfect medium of the work of art.

Opening at the McMichael on January 30, the Tom Forrestall: Paintings, Drawings, Writings exhibition, curated by the McMichael’s Executive Director and CEO, Tom Smart, chronicles Forrestall’s artwork over several decades. Comprising nearly fifty works in oil, watercolour, egg tempera, drawings, and his writings, this retrospective exhibition explores the basis of Forrestall’s creative expression through three primary disciplines—drawing, painting, and writing. His drawings and paintings record his artistic vocabulary and capture his visions from his imagination and the spirit of what he sees with his eyes. His writings explore and record ideas relating to his artistic and spiritual life, his family, and his surroundings, and probe the nature of his creativity, his hopes and dreams, and the source of his visions. This exhibition will explore these three forms of expression which are seamlessly intertwined and constitute the foundations of Forrestall’s art.

Sponsored by
Kinsman Robinson Galleries

Additional support from
Good Foundation Inc.

Press Kit PDF (746 KB)

Tom Forrestall (b.1936)
Dog, Girl and Beach, 1979
egg tempera on panel
108.8 x 114.8 cm
Collection of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Gift of Willard Strug, Halifax, 2005



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