Art of Dana Forrester
by John Troesser
Photos courtesy Dana Forrester
of Ghost Signs - the Vargas of Corvettes
his home in western Missouri, watercolorist Dana Forrester does for
the automobile what Vargas did for women or Andrew Wyeth did for barns.
Painting the smooth, shiny surfaces of sleek classic cars (most of
them Corvettes), Forrester places his models in front of the faded
and peeling vintage ads known as wall signs, ghost signs, or (in the
words of ghost sign aficionado Glenn Rebholtz) "vestige billboards."
The wall ads predate the cars by several decades while the rough,
gritty textures provide an effective contrast to the pudding-skin,
baked-enamel colors of the cars.
When he was about ten years old, painter Edward Hopper expressed his
desire to be a painter, and so it was with Dana Forrester. While still
in elementary school, Dana told his parents of his wishes. And like
Hopper's, Dana's parents encouraged him, providing a tutor for Saturday
morning lessons while most boys his age were watching westerns or
cartoons. But similarities with Hopper came to an end. While it took
Hopper twenty years to sell his first painting, Dana didn't have to
wait that long.
automotive component of Forrester's art began to take form when a
red and white Corvette sped by his parents' car on a Kansas highway
in 1958. It might've been Marty Milner and George Maharis on their
endless trip to California, but whoever it was Dana's life was changed
second component to his art didn't appear until 1974 when Forrester
first discovered a painted sign almost literally in his own backyard
(technically two blocks from his childhood home). Shortly after returning
from a tour of duty in Vietnam, while changing a roll of film in a
back alley, Dana looked up to see a multi-layered almost "surreal"
relic from his youth.
Wanting to enter a painting in the prestigious American Watercolor
Society exhibition in NYC, he thought this old Coca-Cola sign might
just be far enough "off the wall" to be considered by the judges.
So he invested three months of evenings and weekends reproducing the
faded Sherwin Williams "bulletin" colors in watercolor. A painter
painting paint painted by forgotten painters.
watercolor was entitled "The Vanishing Nickel Coke," and it
was one of only 300 out of 10,000 entries to be accepted. Exhibited
alongside the work of Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, it sold as soon as the
exhibition closed and the painting went on the market. Luckily for
his future fans, Dana retracted his oath to never again paint another
Forrester started painting full time in 1987, although it wasn't until
1990 when he first put a car and sign together. The walls didn't exactly
take a back seat to the cars, but they did become the background.
Still, they were painted with the same meticulous care as his first
effort. Forrester has been collecting both signs and cars -- with
15,000 (photographs) of the former and considerably fewer of the latter.
More than 30 years after seeing his first sign, he admits that he
still finds discovering additional ones "an addiction."
He eventually became a signature member of the American Watercolor
Society (a group of only 500 members) as well as the National Watercolor
Society. He continues to add to his impressive body of work by painting
commissioned pieces and producing limited edition lithographs of original
watercolors. It remains a time-consuming process with up to 150 hours
invested in a single painting. Demand is such that, in at least one
case, people were ordering lithographs of a work still in progress.
If you can't wait for an original or a lithograph, however, there's
| The Book
Against the Wall: The Architectural and Automotive Art of Dana
Forrester was published in 2003. In the beautifully bound, 136-page
book (not printed in China but Oklahoma City, we're happy to say)
a brief biography and artist's statement appear, followed by a sampling
of Forrester's architectural paintings. This is what could be called
his "neon and storefront" period, and like Georgia O'Keeffe's oversized
flowers, the paintings are intended to make the viewer notice what
often goes unnoticed. And they succeed wonderfully. Forrester admits
that he occassionally enjoys "in your face" art, somewhat ironic considering
that he repeatedly had to clean greasy nose prints off the glass when
his first painting was shown.
The rest of Against the Wall consists of fifty car and sign
paintings with accompanying stories appearing beside them or on facing
pages. Even the titles occasionally provide a subtle or wry play on
words. When you consider the time that goes into each painting, you
can bet some thought went into the titles as well.
Sometimes a wall sign will be a composite of two different signs,
with perhaps a fire escape thrown in for good measure. This adds another
creative outlet for Forrester as well as another layer for the viewer
to enjoy. Details are sometimes painted from life -- like a clothesline
tied across the artist's studio to enable him to get shadows and wrinkles
After painting and enjoying so many signs, Dana is surprised that
he still meets people who look at his art and realize that they've
never really noticed wall signs. Our bet is that they can't say the
same thing after seeing his work.
The Art of Dana Forrester
- Page 2 - more photos
Book - Order Information
Against the Wall:
The Architectural and Automotive Art of Dana Forrester
By Dana Forrester
Copyright Dana Forrester
Publisher: Neighbors and Quaid, Inc.
1600 Sunset Lane
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73127
The paintings reproduced here are from Dana Forrester's Website: www.danaforrester.com
Subject: "Caravan Stop"
...I've published a new series titled "Caravan Stop" that features
the Shamrock, Texas, landmark of the Tower Conoco Station. The station
was recently restored to its original 1935 condition and I decided
its Route 66 heritage would make a great setting for my painting of
all six generations of Corvettes. My wife and I host a number of Corvette
caravans and such caravans were the inspiration for "Caravan Stop".
Thanks. - Dana Forrester, A.W.S., N.W.S., November 08, 2006
More Ghost Signs
Signs in Texas
October 14, 2005