Artist’s Talk: Denzil Forrester and Matthew Higgs

Denzil Forrester

Royal College of Art, Gorvy Lecture Theatre, Dyson Building, 1 Hester Road, London SW11 4AN
23 October 2019
18:00 - 19:00
Free - booking essential

Part of the following series:

2019 – On Edge

Brixton Header Wall

In collaboration with Art on the Underground and Royal College of Art.

As part of Denzil Forrester’s forthcoming UK public commission with Art on the Underground join the artist and Matthew Higgs, Director of White Columns in New York for a lively discussion on the artist’s practice, teaching and inspirations.

For nearly four decades, Forrester’s paintings have been rooted in, and provide commentary on, the Afro-Caribbean experience in London. Pulsating with rhythm and an extraordinary use of colour, Forrester’s expressive depictions of dance halls and clubs captured the crowds moving in unison to the beat of the music. In contrast to the joy of his night-time revellers, Forrester concurrently created a series of works which subliminally revealed the rising tensions between police and the Afro-Caribbean community during the late 1970s and early 80s, which culminated in the 1981 Brixton Riots.

Through his energetic paintings, Forrester continues to make work about the past and present aspects of his life. For this commission, the artist has reinterpreted his seminal work Three Wicked Men (1982), now in the collection of Tate, London, into an immersive, large-scale painting. Made during his time at the Royal College of Art, Forrester has returned to Three Wicked Men several times over the decades. The title was borrowed from a track by Reggae George, released a year earlier, in which Forrester identifies the three men as a policeman, a politician and a businessman. In Forrester’s painted versions, the latter figure is often replaced by a Rasta. Reflective of the contemporary black experience and the racial tensions of the time, the painting features Winston Rose; a friend of Forrester’s who died whilst under police restraint in 1981 and which would continue to haunt many of his paintings for the next decade.

Forrester is the third commission in a new series at Brixton, following on from Njideka Akunyili Crosby in 2018 and Aliza Nisenbaum in 2019. The programme selects artists to respond to the diverse narratives of the murals from the 1980s, the rapid development of the area and the wider social and political history of mural making.

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Denzil Forrester (b.1956 Grenada, West Indies) lives and works in Truro, Cornwall. Forrester came to England at the age of eleven. Forrester received a BA in Fine Art from the Central School of Art, London in 1979 and an MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art, London in 1983. His works can be found in the collections of Tate, London; Arts Council Collection, UK; and Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston, amongst many others. His work has been exhibited internationally at venues including The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; Tate Britain, London; Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Royal Academy of Arts, London; and Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow. His work has recently been the focus of three solo shows curated by Peter Doig and Matthew Higgs at White Columns, New York (2016); Tramps, London (2016); and Jackson Foundation, St Just (2018). He was awarded a scholarship by the British School at Rome in 1983-85 and a Harkness Fellowship in New York in 1986-88. He currently has a solo exhibition with Stephen Friedman Gallery, London until the end of May 2019 and will be included in the forthcoming group exhibition ‘Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers’ at Somerset House, London in June 2019. Forrester will have a major solo exhibition of new works at Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham opening in January 2020. Denzil Forrester is represented by Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.


Matthew Higgs (b.1964. Wakefield, England) is a curator, writer and artist currently living and working in New York. Since the early 1990s he has sought to develop a practice that considers the intersections and overlaps between these disciplines. Over the past twenty years he has organized more than two hundred and fifty exhibitions and projects in Europe and North America. His writings have appeared in more than fifty books, catalogues and periodicals. He is a regular contributor to Artforum. Higgs is currently the Director and Chief Curator of White Columns, New York’s oldest non-profit alternative art space. Higgs has shown his own work internationally since 1992 and is represented by Wilkinson, London and the Green Gallery, Milwaukee.


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