The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Review: Richard Forster

Question the concept of time with Richard Forster at the Whitworth


Sandwiched between a historic collection of British watercolours and the refreshingly contemporary (and very aptly named) Art_Textiles, you will find Richard Forster’s meticulously crafted photo-realist graphite drawings. The level of quality and attention to detail in these drawings is absolutely incredible, with the majority of uninformed visitors entirely convinced that they are looking at photographs. Of course, when they realise that these works were in fact drawings made to look like photographs, they instantly treat them in a different way. We undeniably treat the experience of looking at drawings different to that of looking at photographs.

A great deal has been written about this matter and it can be said that photographs are usually seen as factual documents, whereas drawings are representational and more capable of fiction. If we understand this to be true, it is no surprise that visitors should decide to change their viewing experience once they learn the reality of the medium. But what happens to the concept of truth and reality in this entanglement of fact and fiction? Are we to say that at one time the viewer was happy to accept these as documents and now spends longer looking at them, admiring their fictional scenery? Or is it more about the viewer deciding that these pictures are worth looking at more because they clearly took longer to make? To what extent could it be both?

The concept of time is as important for Forster in the creation of these works as it is for us in looking at them. Forster works in very meticulous ways, timing how long it takes for the tide to come in, taking pictures at regular intervals. Or on train journeys, taking a picture every so often on a small stretch of the rail tracks. The resulting pictures become the subject for his drawings which take a split second snapshot through a laboriously time consuming drawing process and into the realm of representation.

In short, Richard Forster’s drawings are intelligently crafted pieces of work that explore the relationships between fact and fiction, fast and slow, as well as photography and drawing.

Until the 3rd of January 2016.

  • Emmylou

    Great article but you contradict yourself here. Not only are drawings representational but so is photography. Photography is seen as being more representational as it records less subjectively with the eye. It was said to be more representational than drawing and paintings as it represents exactly what is in front of the lens. Also you stated a drawing is fictional, but surely if it’s recording fact, it can’t be fictional. Surely something cannot be factual (representational) and fictional at the same time? Unless you were referring to the fact that the drawing was a subjective work that could lie when recording a piece of photography deemed as being truth?

    • Neil Greenhalgh

      Hey, thanks for the comment!

      For the purposes of a fairly short review I am paraphrasing slightly, I think if it were a more substantial essay I would have expanded my argument much more.

      My argument is that photography is generally seen as a portrayal of the truth, in that when we look at photographs, we don’t see the photograph as object, but the subject as object.

      My argument is that this perception is different when the viewer is aware that they are looking at a drawing or a painting, because they know it has been created by a human hand and not a mechanical device and perhaps more open to manipulation or falsifying. But it is an interest question isn’t it, which do we trust more, the human hand or the machine?

      There’s a lot written about the relationship between neuroscience and art and I am barely scraping the surface and this review is possibly at danger of making sweeping statements, so I really appreciate your feedback!

      I should probably let you know some points of reference. I’ve not quoted directly but I’m thinking about:

      Gombrich – art and illusion
      Benjamin – the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction
      Lev manovich – language of new media
      Arnheim – art and visual perception

      You’ve inspired me to think more about this!