Michael Forbes is an extremely accomplished painter, as is clear from even a cursory examination of his work. Forbes was born and brought up in a village in the extreme north of the Scottish Highlands, and has been granted access to a poetic world all the more remarkable, given his isolation. It is not always a comfortable world. There is a deal of tension and of alienation in the strange events taking place in the landscape of his imagination. From an early age Michael had an overwhelming urge to paint. Now an entirely self-taught full-time artist, Forbes’ paintings are an extraordinary visual record of his thoughts and dreams. Often journeying into the subconscious, Forbes’ work shows a magical and playful, dream-like world laced with humour.
For a Surrealist, looking the part is hard work. But Michael Forbes rises to the challenge. Some artists – Dali springs to mind – are surreal both on and off the canvas. Yet Michael Forbes, whose pictures are every bit as bizarre as those of the Catalan genius, is as conventional as the rest of us which comes as a surprise to some. “One keen collector who had been buying my pictures regularly came to visit me,” he recalls. “She stayed quite a while, had several cups of tea and we got on fine, but as she left she said: you’ve been a great disappointment you’re so normal.” The comment clearly worried him.
The unassuming father of two does differ from the art scene norm in one way. He is self taught, and worked doing bronze castings for the renowned sculptor Gerald Laing before taking up painting for a living. Forbes lives in Conon Bridge, Ross-shire, not far from his birthplace, Dingwall, and just a few mules from Laing’s home at Kinkell Castle. His work has always been surreal, and inspired by his own fears and neuroses. Having started off dark and disturbing, it has grown sunnier and more whimsical since the birth of his children, Stewart, twelve, and Eden, nine, who are now among his frankest critics, along with his wife, Jane. And demand is growing, with warm reactions to his work at the Kilmorack Gallery in Beauly, the Castle Gallery in Inverness and at Glasgow Art Fair. Forbes has embraced the internet as a way of overcoming his remoteness from the main gallery concentrations. “It’s a great tool,” he says. “If you’re an artist in the Highlands you’d be rude not to use it.”
Michael Forbes is building himself a strong reputation as one of the UK’s most talented painters. A commissioned in 2002 by the world famous band ‘Travis’ brought him further publicity and acclaim. His work is in private collections throughout the world; including the Sainsbury’s Collection and The Museum of Transport, London. Unsurprisingly Ricky Gervais and the director of Monty Python, Terry Gilliam are also solid collectors Michael Forbes’ work.
“I like my work to be sinister and dark, but always with a sense of humour. I feel the most successful paintings are when fifty percent of people go: ‘Oh that’s disturbing’ and the other fifty percent laugh.” Michael Forbes