RR LogoDavid Forlano The True Renaissance Man From Santa Fe, New Mexico

David Forlano 2014 photo oneWhen you look up the term renaissance man, which we did from many different sources, you find explanations like these, “a person with many talents and areas of knowledge,” …someone with a variety of skills and a broad base of knowledge,” and “a man who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in areas of both the arts and the sciences.” All of those definitions and similar ones such as polymath draw their inspiration from people such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Francis Bacon. They serve as an apt description for Santa Fe, New Mexico jewelry designer, artist, web series co-producer (Cyphers) and musician David Forlano.

Forlano has for many years collaborated with longtime friend and business partner Steve Ford of Philadelphia, to build a very successful jewelry business based on their original designs, which are displayed in upscale craft galleries throughout America, such as de Novo, in Palo Alto, California, Velvet da Vinci in San Francisco and Santa Fe’s Patina Gallery. Their jewelry, as well as David Forlano’s paintings have also been exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art.  

In an earlier interview with Riveting Riffs Magazine, David Forlano said that the art jewelry that they create from polymer clay (and often using sterling silver) is properly defined as couture, as it very unique to them and each piece is different. “Our challenge is to stay on top of the game and to keep inventing. We have a certain look and when people see us they know us by name, just as it is with famous dress designers. People, who know that world, will look at a dress and they will know the designer. That is where we stand, in the American craft jewelry world.”

We decided to visit with David Forlano once again and this time to focus on his art, the elements that influence it and to ask whether or not there is a merging of his creative processes.

“It is an interesting thing, because Steve is also revisiting his print making and he is getting a lot of activity and a lot of attention for what he’s doing. He and I started collaborating, I think in 2009 on print painting 2D work. It is printing like etching or lithography. That is what Steve is involved in and he has a press and all of that. It was his passion in art school and he is revisiting his art in 2D work and my (art) is in painting. We were doing that back in 2008 and 2009 and I said to him, ‘Why don’t we collaborate just like we have for twenty some years on jewelry. (I said) why don’t you send me some of your print material and I will paint over top of it. I will do additions, painting things into the print. We did that and we brought that to our galleries. We had two galleries that presented both the jewelry and the art work. We kept thinking that it would be an easy crossover, because the people who buy our jewelry tend to be art collector types. What we found was the 2D work was not all that well received. It was appreciated, but we would have comments from some of our collectors, almost in a panic, you aren’t going to stop making jewelry are you? Oh my God, don’t stop doing what we love that you do. It was an interesting kind of an experiment, but the fine art world is a very different place than the American crafts world. They are very different collectors and there is crossover, but it is almost like we have to reboot and rethink. When we make fine art it needs to go to a fine art gallery and a fine art circle of activity, because it just doesn’t crossover that seamlessly. We are in the process of separating those two things out. He’s doing his print making and I’m doing my painting and drawing and some print making. I just started with etching. Right now it feels very exploratory,” says Forlano.

Many of the influences that are evidenced in David Forlano’s art originate within his musical background.

“I started on piano around ten, like a lot of little kids do if there is a piano around. My dad was always a piano player. That was his instrument.  As soon as I could play an instrument, it was the clarinet and the saxophone and this was in grade school. When I went to high school I switched directly to saxophone for a couple of years, before I quit that, because my older brother was the famous high school saxophone guy and I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. I bought an electric guitar and I started a Rock band. I was (also) a first seat Jazz sax when I was in high school. I understand music pretty much in that sense, but I do have to say, when I picked up the guitar as a high schooler I nearly dropped reading music altogether.  I just went for listen to the record, learn the chord, play it and there’s the song, like a lot of kids do.  Then much later, in my thirties, I went back to studying guitar, through a very famous guitarist Robert Fripp of King Crimson.  He was doing a thing called guitar craft, which was a completely different tuning than most guitarists and I learned under him. It is something that is personal to his technique.  Simultaneously, while I was doing that I also studied Classical Indian percussion and that was taught verbally. I did write down the music as it was taught to me. It is taught mouth to mouth. You sing the rhythms. The teacher sings the rhythms to you and then you play it back.  That is where my formal training took me. It is sort of in and out of formal training all the way up to my late thirties, before I dropped off from any of that. It is mostly by ear.

When I was working with tabla and when I was working with polyrhythms, a lot of which was coming out of the Robert Fripp and Classical Indian music instead of writing out the music with music paper, I was using graph paper.  It was just a simple grid on the page and I would put dots on the page. If you count every little square on the graph, picture a metronome clicking away and the graph paper is essentially the visual equivalent of the metronome.  I would subdivide that into a three-beat or a five-beat or whatever beat I wanted. Say I wanted the drummer to play on the one and the three of five counts, I would put a little dot on the one and then skip and skip and then a dot on the third. I spent a lot of time mapping these graph dots out on the page and I became more interested in what was visually happening to the page.  That is where it transitioned from four or five drummers thinking about something, to me saying I am just going to sit here and produce these patterns on the graph paper and see what comes out of it. All of the geometric shapes that I am working with now were born out of that system of counting dots on a map on the graph paper.”

It may seem odd to say, but a pivotal moment in David Forlano’s artistic career occurred when he was surveying a sink full of dirty dishes.

He laughs as he recalls the moment, “Back in art school I learned so much and a lot of it from my peers.  So many people came in with new ideas and I never considered thinking about the world this way or that way or thought about art this way or that way. I went to art school thinking I am going to learn how to draw things really well and how to paint things really well. My idea of what that meant was pictures of things. When you look at something, you draw a picture of it or you paint a picture of it. I didn’t have a larger world other than that. Pretty quickly, in my freshman year, I started learning about conceptual art and minimalist art and all of these different kinds of ways art had been approached, (as well as) the way that people think. I became enamored with all the different ways that people have expressed themselves down through the years.  I liked all of that and I wanted to know what that was. I went back to do some kind of a drawing and I don’t know if I even knew what to do. I was looking around for things to draw and I was looking at the kitchen sink, which had a bunch of dirty dishes in it. I was getting really frustrated, because I thought this is boring. Everybody draws pictures of things and this was stuck in my mind. You look at something and you draw it. How boring could that possibly be? I wanted some other reason for making something and bringing something into the world. In a moment of frustration and anger I gave up on it. I left it there on the table and I started washing the dishes, because I needed an active energy. I needed to physically do something. I was angry too and I was making a mess. I was throwing a lot of water and I reached back and I grabbed the drawing that I had partially finished. I just threw it in the sink and I started washing it. This goes to performance and why I think performance is interesting. At that time I didn’t know that I was actually doing a performance that nobody was watching.  The physical activity of expressing something is what art is to me. It was my, ah ha moment. That is when the light went on and I thought this is what is interesting to me.  The expression of a something, in whatever form it is. If I am drawing with a pencil on a paper and if I am doing this activity of washing dishes, I think what happens is it drops the barrier, the division between things. Drawing isn’t any different than washing a dish. It dropped some barrier in my mind that says activities that you do all have places in the world. I think for the first time I started looking at every single thing that I do (as something that) can be thought of and approached as a creative act. Whether it yields an object in the end or just the activity of doing it is the expression. It opened a whole world for me of thinking about expression.” David Forlano 2014 photo two

Interestingly, David Forlano refers to his art as many pieces or a composite.

“I find the idea of a compost pile to be very similar to some of what I just described. There are no boundaries and there are no barriers. In the summer I turn over all of the compost pile, which has all of the scraps from the kitchen, the stuff that is considered to be waste and discard that you can’t eat. It goes into the dirt and then this dirt grows, it creates and it becomes something. It becomes something major and it actually gives you plants back, so you can make more food. It is that cycle, that thing within me that is a compost pile. I go into the studio and I work on things. There is a lot of scrap that comes out of that or a project that goes bad. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a mess. In my mind it is never considered to be trash, it just goes into the compost pile of thinking and doing. It’s not considered a failure, it’s unfinished or it goes into compost, meaning it can become something else and I may not know what that is. The way a compost pile is you don’t know what plant just sprouted until it grows large enough where you can see its leaf and then you go, oh that’s a cucumber plant or it makes a fruit and you say, wait a minute I see that, it’s a watermelon. You don’t know until it has grown up large enough that you can identify it.

Forlano says, in much the same way his artistic compost pile is comprised of fragments from his art and sometimes musical fragments.

“I might do something with it on the computer, save it as a file and I might not know what it is and I will come back to that (later). I will figure out later how I might use it.

I hear that so many artists work in that way. I heard David Byrne talk about finding the words by singing just gibberish often, just to find the tonality and the inflection in the voice, what matters musically and the words kind of sneak in there.  I like that way of thinking through the process. It keeps it open for the thing that you don’t know to come in.  That is often a better thing,” he says, laughing lightly.  

The expansion of David Forlano’s creative endeavors to include painting and drawing necessitated the expansion of his studio as well.

“When I first moved here, Steve came out within the first few months of my moving here and he helped me to build a small studio in the backyard, a twelve by sixteen (feet). At that time I was not painting. I was just making jewelry and I did not require a lot of space. Then I started making larger work, paintings and drawings and that was way too small of a space to do what I was doing. It came to the point where I was going to need to rent a large studio somewhere in town and I looked at that option for a while. It was going to be way too expensive and I have always had my studio in the place where I live or attached to it. I really like that and it is my favorite way of working. A lot of artists like that and a lot of artists prefer their working space to be completely removed from where they live. It is an interesting divide.

I built a larger studio. What I had to do with the (other) studio when I wanted to paint or draw was to clear the decks of all jewelry activity and setup again for painting and drawing. When I wanted to do jewelry (again) I had to clear the decks again. Now in the upper loft space, all the jewelry activity happens up there. There is plenty of room to do that and on the first floor of the space all of the drawing and the painting can happen down there. I can now leave everything out and spread everything out. I have two active, creative zones that serve a different function.

Steve still has a studio in Philadelphia and we still send work back and forth. That is continuous,” he explains.

Collaborations and inspiration are important to any artist, no matter what the art form and it should not come as a surprise to learn that David Forlano has collaborated on projects with and is often inspired by his wife, film, television and stage actress, screenwriter and playwright Debrianna Mansini.   

“We have collaborated together on projects. We also have those conversations about each other’s specific art from and I do see that crossover and influence going in both directions.  I so welcome that. I have always welcomed listening to another creative type and how they approach things. I pay close attention to that and I go, how can I figure out how to work that into what I do? That sounds like an interesting approach and I would like to see how that might work for me. I love when people do that and I am very inspired by that kind of open mindedness.

We don’t live in a bubble and I think that it is important to always, always realize that we are not an island, even as we feel that as a creative vision one might want to put out in the world, it is not independent of everything that has happened before.  It is influenced by history and it is influenced by surroundings and by culture. It is all there. I think whether we realize it or not, we are all collaborating, because we are all responding to those influences, whether we like it or not. That stuff is powerful and I am more in the school of paying attention to those influences. I want to know that this influence comes from x, y, z. I can decide, I didn’t really want x, y, z I wanted a, b, c  on this one. If I am more aware of how I am influenced I feel that I can make better choices about which influences are going to matter for this specific project. I will still be true to me, but in a specific situation like when I made the webisode (Cyphers) with Debrianna, there were certain things from a film culture or an internet culture that I felt would be foolish to deny. I needed to pay attention to what the culture was around that, what it is interested in and what it is like? It is not like I am serving that wholly, but those are important things that I can bring my vision to and then it can help me clarify that vision by telling me what it responds to,” he says.

Please visit David Forlano and Steve Ford’s website.

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Interview Published March 2, 2014, All photos property of David Forlano and are protected by copyright © All Rights Reserved

All text protected by copyright and is the property of Riveting Riffs Magazine © All Rights Reserved.  All images are protected by copyright © and belong to the artists and producers, All Rights Reserved