Riga Forbes is a contemporary landscape painter based in Sussex, England. With nature as her muse – land, sky, water, light, the seasons, cycles and rhythms of landscape permeate her work.
I talked with Riga about her return to making art, how mindfulness impacts her work, selling art and her ongoing love affair with painting the natural world…
Inky Shoreline – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas.
My early childhood was spent in Chile and then Australia, and from the age of two I was sent to a progressive “free range” school where creativity ruled with a capital C. I seem to remember painting and drawing almost every day until I was seven years old when we came to England, but it wasn’t until my teens that re-discovered art again in real depth, at secondary school.
I was lucky enough to have an inspirational Art teacher who took us to Florence and put us through our paces as she taught us how to draw. Being an artist herself she understood what we needed to develop and she literally opened our eyes wide to seeing the world in a completely new way. I became increasingly curious and passionate about both art practice and history, and went on to study at Chelsea College of Art in London.
View To The Headland – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas. Shortlisted for the Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize
As an undergraduate my interests were divided between painting and art installation work. I made mostly large oil paintings that explored the abstraction of landscape through colour and chiaroscuro.
The site-specific work I made used electric light and reflective surfaces to create light-images and reflections in darkened spaces. For my final graduation work I took over the college lecture theatre and made it into a shrine-like, mathematical grid of dim, suspended lights. This was the first and smallest of three large-scale public art installations I made in my early twenties.
Ultimately my interest lay in the effects of light and darkness on our body-mind state. I wanted to both express and create images/spaces that allowed for quiet, reflective, meditative or even altered states to arise. And I believe that this theme is still relevant in my current landscape work.
Motherland – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas.
Yes, there has been a big gap for me in the years between postgraduate art practice and returning to painting. During this time I trained to teach and taught Art, raised a family, wrote and published books on birth and motherhood. So becoming a professional artist has been a truly exciting U-turn in my career so far. I still teach, but I spend most days working in my studio if I can. For me it’s like a love affair with painting that’s been reignited.
These days I paint with more resilience too. I don’t mind falling down and getting up again, which makes it easier to take new steps and experiment. Fear of failure holds our creativity back and I’ve realised that every step is a lesson on this journey, so it’s all useful whether I love what I’ve made or not.
Caburn Sky – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas. (60 x 80 x 4.5cm)
Studying and practicing Mindfulness over the last twenty four years has really helped me in this respect. I take a mindful approach to my inner critic and practice acceptance for all of my thoughts and feelings as I work. This enables creative discernment without the self-criticism. I used to think that originality was key in making art, but now I believe it is actually authenticity that gives an artist their unique presence. To follow your heart and mind; to listen to your longing and discover what that looks like for you.
Moonrise Over Waterlogged Land – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas.
My greatest muse is nature: land, sky, water, light, the seasons, the cycles and rhythms. I am a student of the natural world and it is humbling to try and represent or express such an awe-inspiring subject. I sketch and take photographs outside before returning to my studio to paint.
The landscapes I paint tend to be collaged from these studied, glimpsed moments and places, but underlying this process, essentially, I paint what I am feeling and I use formal elements to help me express this emotional state through landscape. So the feelings and the subject need to be aligned. Landscape has the capacity to express every mood from gravity to expansiveness, and vibrancy to seclusion.
Music and dance also feature in my studio space, helping to generate dynamism of gesture, or conversely stillness and reflectiveness. My father has been critically ill over the last year and is now in palliative care, so I have been painting much of the grief I’ve felt for him during this time too.
With Storm Clouds – Riga Forbes
Oil on board. (30 x 22 x 0.5cm)
In fact it was my dad who first took me to march in protest of whale culling when I was 5 years old, and I have supported environmental causes, charities and protests ever since then. I, like many of us, have such deep love and respect for the Earth that I can’t bear to see it’s habitats, creatures, or us, being exploited and destroyed. The important issue of climate change goes hand in hand with painting the land. Our environmental instability is a fact and so is a flooded river-valley, for example, or a polluted river. They are now part of our current landscape, so sometimes I will highlight this theme in my work.
Reservoir Ash With Dieback And Lichen – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas. (60 x 42 x 3cm)
I am lucky to live in a part of England where there are lots of artists and makers, and there is a keen audience for art here too. Half of the paintings I’ve sold this year were through an exhibition I put on in Lewes, East Sussex in February, and the other half I have sold through social media or via my website. In fact I’ve started selling prints of my work through receiving requests from Facebook posts. But it is a formative time for me in terms of selling work, so I am exploring a variety of digital and physical avenues to this end.
Filthy Dirty Sacred River at Dusk – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas. (60 x 80 x 4.5cm)
The artists who continue to inspire me range from Caravaggio to Gauguin, from Rembrandt to Rothko and Fernand Khnopff to Matisse. I love the landscape works of Turner, Redon and Bonnard and more currently Peter Doig, Mary Grant, Maurice Shapiro and David Scott Moore. I instinctively respond to emotive paintings, seated in the guise of colour, darkness and light.
Wood’s Edge, Tall Oaks with Lichen – Riga Forbes
Oil on canvas. (50 x 60 x 3cm)
Thanks again to Riga for her time and consideration and congratulations on being a finalist for the Holly Bush Emerging Woman Painter Prize.
If you enjoyed this then check out our other Artist Interviews.