Our friends at The Free Dictionary define “Running into a brick wall” as “Encountering an insurmountable barrier to progress.” Don’t tell that to artist and avid Corvette fan Dana Forrester. Discovering an old brick wall near his home covered with faded and overlapping advertisements triggered a brainstorm that focused Dana’s artistic talents, and transformed his life from an advanced art teacher into a full-time independent artist. His artistic talent has drawn significant followings in the art and Corvette communities, and elections as a signature member in the prestigious American Watercolor Society and National Watercolor Society.
A precocious artist
Born in Kirksville Missouri in 1947, Dana’s future was virtually preordained when his prodigious artistic talent was recognized by his elementary school art teacher. Not only was Dana talented, he loved art: “I loved to draw and found the completed drawing very exciting.” When Dana told his parents that he wanted to be an artist, they encouraged him by providing art supplies, exposing him to a variety of art publications, and providing him with private art lessons. As with many creative artists, Dana experimented with various forms of expression like oils, acrylics, pencil, and watercolors, eventually choosing watercolors as his preferred medium.
After receiving a B.S. in Art Education from Truman State University and serving in Vietnam, where, he notes, “The Army gave me on-the-job training as a back-up pilot and gunner in the nose of a Cobra helicopter gunship”, Dana had his life-changing encounter with a brick wall. While on an assignment for a graduate study course in photography in 1974, he happened to notice a series of five wall signs on a building about two blocks from where he grew up. His artistic eye focused on the signs, fascinated by the overlapping signs as they created numerous abstract forms. Though he didn’t realize it at the time, the brick wall was a glimpse into his future.
Artistic recognition through a brick wall
At the time, Dana was searching for a unique subject and style of art to enter in the American Watercolor Society (AWS) exhibit in New York. It was a giant step for the then-unknown artist – the subject needed to be unique and it had to be flawlessly executed, because the AWS selects only a couple of hundred paintings out of ten thousand or so entries submitted for the exhibit. Dana decided that the brick wall he saw would be the subject of the painting and spent the next three months working nights and weekends, reproducing the faded signs and colors of the wall brick-by-brick, while teaching art during the day.
When the painting, titled “The Vanishing Nickel Coke,” was finished he sent it off to the AWS and was so burned out he vowed never again to do another brick wall – until his painting was accepted and exhibited alongside such famous artists as Andrew and Jamie Wyeth. Dana’s painting was sold immediately following the close of the exhibit and Dana was back in the brick wall business. Says Dana, “I swore I’d never do another brick painting, but the crazy success of the first painting made me rethink that.” His students counted over 6,000 bricks in the painting, which Dana notes was not only challenging, but very time-consuming. Over the years, he has refined the technique, but notes, “There is no trick or easier way to create these.”
Corvette meets the brick wall
Usually, a Corvette meeting a brick wall is a disaster, but for Dana, once again, it proved to be a fortuitous happening. Around 1988, while still fighting against the burnout of painting brick walls, Dana, now an owner of a silver 1965 Corvette Coupe, started a series of paintings of the car for his own viewing. Within a couple of years, seeking something different, he inserted an older Corvette in front of a Chevrolet dealer sign on a brick wall and generated new public enthusiasm for his work. “I didn’t think that combination would be popular, but it sold faster than anything I’d done before, so I tried it again.” About twenty-seven years later, he’s still doing it and it’s still in demand.
Dana had little interest in cars until he was in junior high, when he saw a black 1963 Corvette split-window coupe from the back seat of his father’s car. “Fireworks went off” when he saw the car, he says. The real fireworks had to wait until 1987 when Dana bought his ’65 Coupe, a big-block, National Corvette Restorers Society (NCRS) Top Flight car. He also has a 2016 Z06 Coupe and has an eye on a Torch-Red C6 convertible for his wife. His love of Corvettes is not limited to the easel. He is a Master Judge for the NCRS, is on the National Board of Directors for the NCRS and the National Corvette Museum, and was Co-Chairman of the NCRS National Convention in 2008.
Cars, Key West and architecture
Although Dana is very active in the Corvette community, he does not limit his paintings to Corvettes. He has created paintings of Thunderbirds, Shelby Cobras, Street Rods, and Camaros, among others. He estimates he currently has about 200 print images for sale on his website and has probably done another 100 or so custom works that haven’t been published. In addition to automotive paintings, Dana currently works on his Architectural series which, of course, includes brick buildings; a series on famous places in his favorite haunt, Key West, Florida; and a series on wines.
What does the crystal ball hold for Dana Forrester? When asked where he wants to be in five or ten years, he responded, “Sitting at my drawing tables, painting, but traveling less. I’d love to be living in Key West or the Keys.” In an interview with Mark McCourt for Hemmings, Dana said, “I really enjoy painting cars, and I love muscle and high-performance cars. I’m so fortunate to be able to paint my passion, to get up every morning and not be able to wait to get into the studio.”
The rest of us are fortunate that Dana loves what he does and intends to keep doing it – that means we can look forward to more years of exquisite paintings from Dana Forrester. To see his available prints, contact Dana for a custom commission, or just enjoy the art, please visit his website.
A very big ‘Thank You’ goes out to Tom Strongman, Dana’s good friend and prolific automotive writer, for letting us use his video of Dana’s 1965 ‘Silver Bullet’ Corvette.
Email interview with Dana Forrester between Feb. 17 and March 8, 2017
Dana Forrester Art – https://danaforresterart.com/ ;
Texas Escapes – http://www.texasescapes.com/Signs/The-Art-of-Dana-Forrester.htm
The Free Dictionary – http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/run+into+a+brick+wall
Photos by: Dana Forrester
Video by: Tom Strongman