‘It’s a moonlit night in Splatt Cottage: the moon, stairs, table, floor, window and front door are jumping to Cottage Lover’s rhythm. The thief of love wants to escape, but the movement, action and expression of Cottage Lover have him spellbound, to stay and play on.’ So Denzil Forrester has described his painting Cottage Lover 1997.
Forrester (b.1956, Hermitage, Grenada) began sketching in east London’s dub and reggae nightclubs while studying at the Royal College of Art in the early 1980s. From behind the bar, for the length of a record, he would quickly capture, in pastel and charcoal, glimpses of electrified dancefloors: the Friday night finery of the mainly Rastafari clubgoers, the dancers’ rhythmic bouncing and swaying, the irresistible tug of the sound system.
In the morning, with the punchbag bass still leading his gestures, Forrester would return to his art school studio. There he would translate these expressions, drawn in near darkness, into large, angular, luminously colourful oil paintings that resonated with the energy of packed bodies moving together under artificial lights in smoke-thick, cavernous spaces. Sometimes, subtle details suggestive of the fraught race relations of the era would enter these paintings.
Forrester, who moved permanently to Cornwall in 2016, has described Cottage Lover as a ‘mixture of my nightclub painting and the interior of my family cottage in Cornwall’. Made some years after he stopped regularly attending clubs in the early 1990s, it presents a parallel vision of present and remembered night-times: his parents-in-law’s moonlit cottage near St Agnes, Cornwall, and the frenetic nights under disco balls inside the East End clubs.
On loan from the Arts Council Collection, Forrester’s painting is on display at Tate St Ives alongside the work of artists such as Patrick Heron, Peter Lanyon and Winifred Nicholson, whose experiments with colour and light earlier in the 20th century also found new ways of depicting sensation in the modern world.
Cottage Lover is included in the display Modern Conversations at Tate St Ives.