Francis Michael Forster (1907–2002), a Canadian war artist, was born in Calcutta and spent much of his childhood in the Northern Indian city of Meerut. Situated in the vast flatness of the Ganges plain, this was a land of dramatic visual contrasts as well as, for Forster, a place of great personal tragedy and loss.

On his return to England, Forster was educated at Lancing College in Sussex and studied painting at the Central School of Arts under Bernard Meninsky and William Roberts. He also spent some time studying at the Académie Colarossi, Paris. It was 1927-8 and, in the hope that the Depression would be less bitter in North America than in England, Forster arrived in Toronto.

The 1938 Surrealist section of the Canadian National Exhibition was to make a deep impact on Forster’s art. He was to take to heart the movement’s emphasis on the unconscious life of the artist in his intuitive, sensual handling of paint. After the war he was on familiar terms with Jean-Paul Riopelle and the Canadian Automatistes, as well as Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo in Mexico City, hence his artistic roots lay well outside the scope of any one movement or national school. He was honoured with a one-man show at the Museo Nacional in Mexico City in 1960 before returning to Canada four years later.

It was only after the death of his first wife, Adele, that Forster returned to England. Settling in Treen, Forster’s work flourished, his primary concern as a painter being the transference of the experience of light and the patterns of nature into instinctive abstract forms. Following in the footsteps of Constable, he took great inspiration from the ever-changing light and cloud formations of the sky. Forster went beyond Constable, however, in also studying the patterns of the night sky. In line with the surrealist practices that were current much earlier in his career, he retained a sense of the importance of artistic intuition: “I try to work in a state of open, receptive, mindlessness; to be alert to every hint, every direction that reveals itself in the course of the work” (MF, c. 1970).

Experimental and fresh in his use of paint and different media to the very end of his life, his landscapes and quasi-abstract works are astonishing in their variety of handling and richness of colour.

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