Art on the Underground commissioned Grenada-born, British artist Denzil Forrester to create a large-scale public artwork for Brixton station, on view from 19 September 2019 until Spring 2021.
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.
For his first major UK public commission, Forrester 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.
For nearly four decades, Forrester’s paintings have been rooted in, and provide commentary on, the Afro-Caribbean experience in London. His early paintings from the 1980s made visible what otherwise might have remained fleeting or hidden, documenting and immortalising the nocturnal and social spaces of the underground reggae and dub scenes. In his Art on the Underground commission, ‘Brixton Blue’ (2018), Forrester recreates the essence of contemporary urban life in form, light and colour and new elements have been integrated from the 1982 version, situating the work within the musical lineage of Brixton.
As we approach the prospect of the UK leaving the European Union, a defining moment for the UK against a backdrop of worldwide geopolitical change, this commission forms part of Art on the Underground’s 2019 programme which looks at the role artists can play in developing ideas of togetherness and belonging.
Music is an integral part of Forrester’s practice and the artist has very kindly compiled a list of tracks that he’s been currently listening to in his studio. Click below to listen to Denzil Forrester’s selector.
Denzil Forrester stated:
“Music and dance were, and still are, my main sources of inspiration. I was lucky to be in Hackney at the right time – the 80s. I had access to all the major ‘Dub’ blues nightclubs: Phebes, All Nations and Four Aces. For the very first time I was in a big space with dub reggae playing at maximum volume, it was a piece of heaven on earth.
I began to take my sketchbook, A1 paper and drawing equipment and draw. It was dark and smoky. I didn’t care what the people looked like – I just wanted to draw movement, action and expression. I was interested in the feeling and energy of the crowd. Particular dance movements and clothing play an important part in my gesture drawings. In these clubs, city life is recreated in essence – sounds, lights, police sirens, bodies pushing and swaying back and forth and all in a smoke-filled room. Sometimes the atmosphere was momentarily broken by another group of people, dressed only in blue.
Music has a way of uniting people. We all need that adrenaline shot now and then to wake us up and bring us together. Unfortunately, lots of these places are disappearing – Four Aces is now luxury flats. My paintings haven’t been seen much by the general public, this is a golden opportunity for a fast moving audience to see my work on a massive scale. Art on the Underground is reaching out to all, helping to make visual art more accessible to the public.”