Helen Forbes

Theme/Style – Modernism, landscapes, portraits

Media – Oils, murals, watercolors, temperas, etchings

Artistic Focus – Whether creating landscapes, still lifes or portraits, Helen Forbes took a direct, honest approach to her subjects, creating works that exhibited simplicity, honesty, and a careful, unemotional attention to detail.  Her watercolors done in California's Sierra Nevada mountains demonstrated her enthusiasm for her subject, using clear, quickly applied color on the paper; and some of her most compelling work was done during a stay in Death Valley, where she used the frenetic desert forms and the primitive upheavals of the surrounding mountain ranges to create paintings with startling themes and simple, almost abstract images.

Career Highlights –

• Helen Forbes was born in San Francisco and trained at the Mark Hopkins Art Institute (later the California School of Fine Arts), where she received a lifetime scholarship in 1914.
• Forbes then traveled through Europe, studying in Germany and France, before returning to California in 1924. There, she studied for a time with Armin Hansen in Carmel.
• Her landscapes included oils painted during a visit to Mexico in the mid-1920s, during which her work began to show a new economy of treatment and a recognition of the sculptural qualities found in nature and in Mexican architectural forms.
• Living in a deserted inn in Death Valley from 1930 to 1932, Forbes produced paintings which portrayed forbidding, almost hallucinatory visions of the region.
• The murals that Forbes began creating on commission for the Works Projects Administration in 1934, were highly regarded – particularly her mural of Noah and the animals of the Ark, created for Mother House at Fleishhacker Zoo in San Francisco.
• Forbes, who taught for a time during the 1930s at UC Berkeley, passed away in San Francisco in 1945.