Artist Eric Forstmann

July 27, 2021

What some see as rubbish, painter Eric Forstmann sees as inspiration.

Text by Robert Kiener

Connecticut-born-and-bred painter Eric Forstmann makes the ordinary extraordinary. Take, for example, one of his most popular—and best-selling—still-life series: a succession of well-worn, rumpled men’s dress shirts suspended on a blank wall. That’s right, shirts.

“Well, you can’t get a much more ordinary subject for a painting than a bunch of button-down shirts hanging on wooden and plastic hangers,” admits the sixty-year-old artist with a smile. “But I’ve always believed there is beauty in many ordinary things. And I am always trying to bring out that beauty in these simple, often overlooked images.”

The now-iconic shirt paintings, with their finely detailed curves and folds and intriguing shadows, invite viewers to slow down and look more closely. So do Forstmann’s other paintings, which feature more typical still-life subjects, such as fruit, vases, and flowers, as well as more unexpected fodder, like ceiling-high stacks of office furniture and strips of crumpled
brown paper.

There’s a depth and sense of fun in much of his work. Look closely, and you may spot a reflection of the artist himself in some of his still lifes. Forstmann’s work can be found in the permanent collections of museums including Waterbury’s Mattatuck Museum and Missouri’s Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. Actors Meryl Streep and Warren Beatty and former president Bill Clinton have all purchased pieces.

Forstmann, who graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, calls himself an “eyeball realist,” explaining that he prefers to work from an actual object or scene as opposed to painting from a photograph. He confesses to visiting the Sharon dump to find unusual objects to feature in his still lifes. “And I have gotten the occasional men’s shirt at the Goodwill store,” he admits.

But Forstmann’s portfolio isn’t all still lifes. The artist combs the countryside near his home in Sharon to find scenes for his ongoing plein air landscape series. “It is so beautiful around here. There’s a smallness, an intimacy, as well as occasional grandeur in this part of New England,” he says. “I feel like it deserves the respect I give it by standing there and studying it and
painting it for hours. We are so lucky to live around all this beauty.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Eric Forstmann is represented by Eckert Fine Art Gallery + Consulting at the Mass MoCA campus, North Adams, Mass., janeeckertfineart.com.