Forrest Solis Takes on Children's Lesson Books in "Acting Out: Prescribed Lessons"

Forrest Solis reads children's books -- more specifically antiquated children's lesson books -- a little differently.

The Phoenix artist and ASU Assistant Professor of Art will be showcasing her painted reactions to these books in her latest exhibition, "Acting Out: Prescribed Lessons" at the Artlink A. E. England Gallery Oct. 1 through 25.

"At first, I was like, wow, we've come so far, but then I thought, how far did we come?" Solis says of the books she uses in her paintings. "Seeing these and going back in history is like getting a sense of placement. There are these little things that creep up every now and then."

She paints images of the "prescribed lessons" next to self-portraits that she says are reflective of her own experiences as a woman and how she interprets the behavioral lessons into her current adult life. 

We caught up with Solis to talk about her upcoming show and philosophies behind her artwork ...

What inspired the ideas behind your work?
I have always been obsessed with the figure, ever since junior high, high school, undergrad and grad. It's definitely the most complex and challenging thing I've ever painted, and I'm still learning and probably will be for the rest of my life.

You often use objects as focal points in your work. Why is that?
Usually, (with the paintings), I start with an object that is quirky or strange that I find emblematic. Mirrors, dolls, toys, and in this case, children's books. In one of the books, there is a particular image where a little girl accidentally cut her finger with scissors.

There is this like, pool of blood on the floor, as if she cut off one of her fingers, and the way it's written is very sing-songy and very old-fashioned language. I just love the combination of teaching through fear and manipulation using this bright and pleasant imagery. 

Forrest Solis, Sleeping Alone, 2010, oil and acrylic on canvas, 42 x 30 inches. Courtesy the artist. © Forrest Solis.
How did you feel when you first discovered these old behavioral books?
Some of the lessons are about adulthood and gender-role lessons. At first when I read them, I was just mortified, like, these lessons are so biased and sexist.

Was it just the discovery of these old books that lead you to share this message? Or have you always wanted to explore gender roles?
It's always been an issue for me. When I was in school, they said to write what you know, and I figured, paint what you know. It's hard to not paint about being a woman, especially when my work is self-portraiture. Of course, now, there is this resurgence of graphic novels and comic books... I've always loved children's books' illustration and this is the first time I've brought illustrations into my work. It's great to have this rich resource of imagery and content to explore.

Are you hoping your audience will become more introspective when looking at your work by questioning their childhoods, wondering, "Did I grow up like this?"
Absolutely, I want them to be critical and to really look at your place critically. I think, you can't help but kind of take a stand on it. It has to insight some sort of feeling from the viewer.

Solis' work will be in the Artlink A.E. England Art Gallery, 424 N. Central Ave., until Oct. 25. There will be an opening reception for the artist on Oct. 1 from 6 to 10 p.m.