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Illusions: Faux Painter Allan Forrest [elan magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
elan magazine
November 2006, page 74-76

DON’T BELIEVE YOUR EYES WHEN you walk into the 5,000-square-foot home that faux artist Allan Forrest just completed. The walls in the dining room, just off the two-story foyer, are covered in what appears to be a luxurious dark blue cloth. The ceiling seems to have been kissed by candlelight.

Or are they? Paint, in fact, is the medium that Allan has deftly applied to the room, for his mission was to turn this contemporary abode into something unpredictable and inspirational with an Old World feel.

He seems to have hit the mark. In the foyer, a plaster and paint mixture gives the appearance of aged espresso-colored wood grain—something only found in those fabulously old European villas. A 20-foot-high wall in the living room received the same faux treatment, and along a tall staircase that leads to the second floor, is the project’s masterpiece: a breathtaking mural that gives the viewer the impression of standing before Roman ruins just after sunrise.

Across the cul-de-sac from this home, Allan is working on another project. Pete and Lisa Otis commissioned him to transform their contemporary sunroom into a rustic respite with a southwestern feel. Once he’s finished there, they want him to continue the theme into the foyer, then into the hallway that connects to the dining room and kitchen. And when that project is done, they plan to have him work on the bar area in their newly finished basement.

“Allan started working with us just three weeks ago, and already we see that he has an amazing ability to turn a client’s ideas into incredible works of art,” Pete says. “It’s really amazing that we found him, because for years we’d seen amazing faux art in magazines and wondered where we’d ever find someone with that kind of talent. Lucky for us, we wandered across the street—and there Allan was.”

Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary has long been a passion for the native of Ontario, Canada, who as a child dreamed of growing up to be a painter.

Known as the “best artist in the class,” his Uncle Gordon made that job a little easier, for he owned an art supply store and showered Allan with all the paper, charcoal and paints he desired.

Allan’s dad liked to fix up old furniture, and he showed the boy how to refinish antique wood. “It was fun,” Allan says, “but there was a general consensus among my family members that although I was probably talented, I would never be able to make a living as an artist.”
A few teachers suggested to Allan that if he really wanted to make a go of it, he should head to New York City. So in 1985, the then- I 9-year-old made his way to Manhattan. Within weeks of arriving, he found work at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel restoring antique furniture.

Allan repaired everything from Chippendale chairs to Victorian tables. In fact, one day he was called in to do a quick fix on a chair in the suite where “Wheel of Fortune” hostess Vanna White was staying. “Unfortunately, the mahogany oil I had used on the chair leg wasn’t quite dry when she sat down on it in her white linen dress, and I think it was totally ruined,” Allan admits.

Fortunately, he was quickly hired away by the children’s clothing design company Andover Togs to create a new line of artsy tees for girls. He did that for a couple of years before marrying his girlfriend Karen and heading to her native England to live.

It was a bit of a bust, Allan admits: “We bought a house, fixed it up—and tried to move back to the states as fast as we could.”

While overseas, though, Allan started creating fine art. On a lark, he submitted some of his drawings to the Royal Academy Annual Summer Exhibition. Of the 12,000 entries received, his pencil drawing of a young woman and old man in intimate conversation won an Honorable Mention prize.

Inspired by the nod, Allan turned out more pencil drawings, followed by elegant oil paintings. Still, he was convinced there was no real career to be had in the world of fine art, and he opted for the practical. In London, he briefly worked with a plaster company that had developed a technique that made the substance appear to look like marble.

Allan coupled the technique with his ability to reproduce the look of wood and upon returning to the U.S. in 1992 quickly landed a job with a faux finishing company, Valley Craftsman, in Baltimore. He enjoyed the opportunity to paint a mural on a 20-foot high wall as much as he liked working on small commissioned oil paintings.

He also realized that working for himself was the way to go, and in 1994 he opened the Forrest Art Studio. He has been busy ever since. “What I love about my business is that I never do the same thing twice,” he says. “My portfolio and skills are always improving, and I think my clients really benefit from that.”

Indeed, a recent job in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, took him to new heights. For a 23,000-square-foot home with 22-foot ceilings, Allan painted the grand living room ceiling with tons of treetops with the help of an intricately designed scaffold.

“It was this gorgeous country home, and I wanted the owner and his friends to be able to look up and feel like they were in a forest,” he
says. “It worked, and that remains one of my favorite jobs.”
As expected, an Allan Forrest original doesn’t come cheap. A single room runs from $5,000 to$ 10,000, depending on the level of detail. A big, multiple-room project can run upward of $100,000.

View Allan Forrest’s work: www.ForrestArtStudio.com.

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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.

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