Paul Forte, “Poetic Vision” at URI Main Gallery

On display now at the URI Main Gallery, Poetic Vision: The Art of Paul Forte- Selected Works 1974-2014 presents the work of artist and poet Paul Forte. While the artist considers it to be more of a survey than a retrospective, it certainly serves as a way to observe a collection of a life’s work spent in the pursuit of art. Reaching as far back as the seventies, this cohesive unit contains work not oft seen in public exhibition or that has spent time in private collections. This exhibition will be the best opportunity to view the work of a little known conceptual artist that works not to record that which he sees, but to translate his thoughts and words into visual form.

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“Scroll of Babble” (Detail), Collage on board, 2014

Forte works with found materials and text, constructing a multitude of expertly crafted “poetic objects”. I don’t believe that a single detail is overlooked whilst building, each part having a very specific intent behind it’s placement and purpose. This is not to say that Forte yields such control at all times without any experimentation with whimsical notions. Map of Chaos is composed of entirely of shredded strips of maps adhered with no rhyme or reason to a large sheet of canvas. Yet even through the random nature of the application, one can catch glimpses of unintentional order to the distribution of color and recognizable places when scrutinizing the piece on closer inspection. Quite often, elements of wry humor and wit lurk behind either the aesthetic of the work or straight up in the title. From Measure of Doubt to Compact Record, many pieces in this exhibition yield elements of Forte’s humorous side. Word play and language composition are key players in the creation of much his work, changing the initial perceptions of the objects at hand.

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“Map of Chaos”

Aesthetically, Forte’s work has the antiquated feel of objects crafted in the nineteenth to early twentieth century. Certainly some of the found imagery comes from this time period, but again Forte applies his intent in the building of these poetic objects. The imagery used in many of the objects are from a time of simple, scientific experiments. Poet’s Wand illustrates the use of static electricity on a glass wand to attract pieces of paper. All the pieces for the experiment are at hand, yet the papers all have words delicately scripted onto the strips as if the process will create poems for the user.

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“Poet’s Wand”, Glass rod, jar of word fragments in felt-lined case, 1997

History often plays a major role in the backstories found behind Forte’s work. In discussion over a poetic object I had not seen before, I discovered that it was a piece in reverence to the victims of the Hiroshima bombing. Titled The Memory of 8:15, Forte explained to me that near the site of detonation, the victims closest had only left their “shadows” behind. Inside this object, rests the translucent, holographic image of a clock forever trapped in time much like the shadowed remnants from this dark day in history. Forte also utilizes historic events personally experienced from references to the Vietnam War (Art of Bandaging, 1997) to the advent of the new millenium (Countdown (Millenial Piece), 1990).

For those interested in the visual aesthetics of turn of the twentieth century presented in a conceptual and cognitive way, I highly recommend visiting the URI Main Gallery to view Forte’s work. It’s open 12-4 Mon-Fri and you can park right in the staff lot if you stop at the visitor’s center for a free pass. Trust a URI alumna, it beats attempting to park in the commuter lot next door.

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