Herein I attempt to craft a patchwork quilt of lonely words, solemn statements, and empty spaces. I played the role of inquirer and gentle listener and now turn seamstress in my attempt to share a truthful replica of an intricate conversation. Alexandra Forest’s descriptions of her work and experiences are poignant and irreplaceable, so I have chosen where possible to avoid diluting them. Any statements within quotes are her own.
Forest, Alexandra (2020) My Grief Observed, watercolor and ink on paper, 5x8 in.
Identity / Grief / Validation
A question I will never cease to ask is when and why we begin to think of ourselves as artists. What inspires the shift in identity and what arises from that transition? A conversion occurred for Alexandra when she began her series, My Grief Observed. No longer could she deny the fact that she is an artist. That title should not be determined by arbitrarily sufficient validation and so she chose this identity for herself.
Forest, Alexandra (2020) Dark Night, ink on paper, 5x5 in.
Dark Night / Screaming / Shards
The Dark Night subseries consists of an accumulation of twelve paintings that developed from the excruciating loneliness Alexandra experienced after an inexplicable death tore her fiancé, Will, from this world.
“I painted all of these at night time in those dark moments that had me yelling, screaming, hitting my head on the wall. … They're part of that. ... It’s the grief that does the speaking for it and it wasn't until afterwards, when I would look at it, that I'd feel this amazing connection and feel so validated. … Some people are writers and some people are poets, but I'm not a writer. I'm an artist. I'm a painter. … I really believe that art speaks more than words can say.”
The layered line work and weaving patterns of words form “shards of broken glass” extracted from the physical and psychological toll of grief and transplanted upon the paper in a simultaneously mindless and mindful ritual.
Forest, Alexandra (2020) Blood, Death & Tears, charcoal and ink on paper, 48x72 in.
Blood, Death & Tears / Ink as Blood / Charcoal as Knife
In both the Dark Night paintings and in her performance piece, Blood, Death & Tears, ink became her “key ingredient” and represents Blood and the Void. “This blood doesn't need to be red … It also represents a Dark Void, something that is all unknown. It’s the kind of scary when you have nightmares at night and you can't turn the lights on.”
The ink is “pure color” and a stand-in for the blood that she wished would envelop her body. “I would put it on my body as if representing this is where I want blood to be right now and where I want to be bleeding. I want to be dying because Will’s dead. Will’s gone.”
The charcoal “acted as a knife,” cutting across the paper and forming memorializing scars. “If my body could be canvas, it would have been and I'd have all the blood everywhere. I would have all of the dirty, messy cuts and scrapes of the charcoal and the tears.”
Forest, Alexandra (2020) Blood, Death & Tears, Documentation Photos.
Body as Canvas / Birth of the Badass
The ink transformed into a substitute for blood and her body evolved into a canvas as she created Blood, Death & Tears. “I remember laying on the canvas … wishing I could become one with the canvas, and making marks with it and then all of a sudden it transformed into this. … We were two canvases.” Art is birthed from both body and soul and, when Alexandra’s physical form morphed into a canvas, she was reborn.
“My hair was dripping and soaked, completely soaked with paint and ink and so I did emerge from water … everything was falling off of me. It was very much a birthing. It was dirty and messy and yet extremely beautiful.”
She captured documentation photos solely for herself as a method of remembering the pain. Yet even within the scope of privacy, she felt compelled to censor her posture and form. “I literally tried to not pose in a way that was attractive. … I remember looking back at the photos and thinking like… f*ck, I'm beautiful. … There's so much more to life than me sitting around thinking I'm ugly. … The body is just the body.”
This introspective and deeply personal experience bears witness to Will’s eternal influence. The birthing represented the transformation of her identity under the crushing emptiness of his absence. “I think I've become much more of a badass ever since Will died and I'm so angry that he's not here to see it. … I haven't really thought about it until just now, but maybe it was kind of the Birth of the Badass.”
Thank You for Crying
The topic of viewers’ responses to her work wove its way throughout our entire conversation. The uniting thread revealed itself as her desire for family, friends, and acquaintances to sit with the discomfort of grief and to acknowledge the wrongness of it all. “I remember my friend just started crying… and … I just was like, thank you. Thank you for crying, because that's what I did.”
Attempting to limit the complexities of Alexandra’s work to the constraints of this quilt is uniquely difficult. However, her generosity and patience gave me the chance to understand her and her art in organic and intimate ways. I will not pretend that this conversation and process of documentation were painless or life giving. But they were true. “The comfort is in the fact that it's true. Grief sucks. Grief is a b*tch and it's painful and it is uncomfortable. But seeing someone talk about it is what's comforting.”
For more information about Alexandra Forest's artwork, please visit her website. Her social media account information and available artworks can be found on her website as well.