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Dancing Through Color and Form

The Legacy of Jim Forsberg

by Jeannette de Beauvoir

Provincetown has nurtured a plethora of remarkable artists, and one of the most influential figures among them is that of Jim Forsberg, who is being honored with three different exhibits this summer: two at the Julie Heller galleries and one at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

Forsberg was one of the founders of the Fine Arts Work Center, where he spent seven years serving on its visual arts committee. He settled permanently in Provincetown in 1954 and taught extensively through the 1980s, becoming a mentor to many aspiring artists.

The PAAM exhibit, titled Motifs and Colors of Form, is curated by Marit Cranmer, who feels that she knows Forsberg both through a long association with his work as well as through knowing his daughter, Carol. “The first painting I saw by Jim Forsberg was a small untitled piece we call The Flowerpot,” says Cranmer. “An exquisite piece, very Matisse-inspired. This painting was bought in the late 1960s by the man who later became my husband, Efrem Marder. He later acquired other paintings by Forsberg, including many on behalf of the company he worked for, and after he retired he took over ownership and they ended up in our home.”

The Visit. Courtesy of Julie Heller

Julie Heller has a personal background with Forsberg. “The first year I opened my gallery, he lived above me,” she says. “In 1980 he had a studio shop, and there was this gorgeous big painting in the hallway. I was young and I didn’t know what I know now about looking for Provincetown artists, so we came to the agreement that if someone saw the painting and wanted it, I ‘d represent him. In the end it didn’t happen, but he’d sparked my interest.”

That interest continued over the decades. Heller recalls, “his daughter told me that the Provincetown Art Association and Museum was working on a show. At the time they weren’t quite clear about what year it was going to be, but once I found out, I was lucky to be able to work with my scheduling.” And why a show in two parts? “I wanted to extend the time and the exposure,” she answers. “At the east gallery we can’t really show any of his really large-scale work, but we can at the beach gallery.”

There is no one style that defines Forsberg’s work. “Because of his age, there were many periods of work to go through, many different styles, and it was all very juicy—something you could really delve into,” says Heller. Cranmer agrees. “I truly like the aspect of both color and form that dominates Jim’s work,” she says. “Some pieces are more powerful, and others are more sensitive and poetic. But there is always a certain nerve in his work that I find particularly appealing.”

“His work followed an interesting evolution, using different forms of abstraction and different uses of materials, and going from large abstract paintings to mixed media and collage,” says Heller. “He was always ahead of the crowd with what he was doing. He really was a painter’s painter, even to the point where Robert Motherwell was buying his work, was very impressed with it.” In fact, Motherwell wrote in April of 1986, “I met Jim Forsberg at least 40 years ago in New York City (…)  Ever since I have followed his work with great respect for its independence, integrity and beauty, and with equal respect for his intelligence and modesty as a man.”

Heller agrees. “He is truly a neglected Provincetown master,” she says.

Form Study #2. Courtesy of Julie Heller

Neglected no more, however, thanks to these concurrent exhibitions that complement each other and offer insight into the range of Forsberg’s work. Through July 20, the Julie Heller East Gallery is featuring his early work (1940s-1960s) in part one of an exhibition called The Dance of Space. That exhibition continues in her main gallery—from July 14 – August 17—looking at Forsberg’s large-scale works from the 1980s and 1990s. And the PAAM exhibit focuses on the last decade of his output, so that together the three shows offer a real retrospective of Forsberg’s art.

Motifs follow a pattern as well. “The stone period dates from very early on in his career,” says Cranmer. “He traveled to England in the 1950s and was quite influenced by visiting Stonehenge. Many interesting pieces have come from these studies.” Two examples of this period are included in the PAAM show. After the “stone” work, Forsberg explored abstract expressionism, and later even passed through a phase that flirted with the decorative arts. Finally he arrived at his culminating motif, that of a bird in flight. “The bird series is the last period he worked on,” says Cranmer. “They’re larger and bolder and are all created with his characteristic ripped colored paper collages and paint. The aspect of a bird in flight contains so much movement and delight, yet at times they can be also somewhat ominous.”

It’s possible that his life in Provincetown inspired the bird series. His daughter, Carol Forsberg, reflects on how important the town was to him—and he to the town. “Although he exhibited his work in New York and internationally, his life in Provincetown gave him a setting filled with light and beauty that served as a continuous inspiration for his work,” she says. “In addition to painting, he was also one of the founders of the Fine Arts Work Center. He also acted, directed and painted sets for the Provincetown Theater Company during the sixties.”

Perhaps Forsberg himself summarizes best what his work reveals to viewers. “I like the dance of space, the strength in balance, the voices of color, the challenge of interval, the mystery of creation and the promise of possibility,” he wrote in 1990. “The puzzle becomes the process. Putting the pieces together gives me joy.”

And surely will as well to everyone who sees his work in Provincetown this summer.

Jim Forsberg’s work will be on view in the following Provincetown exhibitions: Motifs in Form and Color (Through August 27) at PAAM, 460 Commercial St., 508.487.1750,; The Dance Of Space – Part 1, Early Work (Through July 20) at Julie Heller East, 465 Commercial St., 508.487.2166; and The Dance Of Space Part 2, Later work (July 14 – August 17) with an opening reception: Friday, July 14, 7 – 9 p.m., at Julie Heller Gallery, 2 Gosnold St., 508.487.2166,


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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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