Big skulls, little monsters
Sacramento artist A. Forster lives the American Dream— with European arrogance
Sacramento, CA 95814
A. Forster, a.k.a. Cabron (his pen name for comics), doesn’t bumble around with the potential pretentiousness of using the “A” word: If you ask, he’ll say he’s an artist. Born and raised in Austria, Forster dreamed of living in America and becoming a successful artist. When he was 19, he backpacked through the states and settled down in Washington’s San Juan Islands and worked in construction. He ditched the day job, however, and recently relocated to Sacramento to do art full time. He has shown his World War II-era figurative work around town a few times since 2008—at Temple Fine Coffee and Tea and at A Bitchin’ Space—and is currently in negotiations to develop characters for a feature-length film.
What brought you to Sacramento?
My ex-wife is from Sacramento. That’s how I got my papers, in the first place, when I married her. … But my original idea for moving to Sacramento is Gale Hart, who put me up in A Bitchin’ Space. I was sending out all of these letters of interest from all these different galleries. … I never sent anything to her, but she was one of the only ones to write me back. To this day, she doesn’t know how she found me.
Are you happy you are in the United States?
Yeah, it’s a dream come true. I always dreamed of coming here, kind of like [fellow Austrian Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger.
You have themes of the past in your current work. But your older work has a comic influence.
It’s kind of like what you call here the lowbrow thing. I have a problem here, ’cause it’s not quite lowbrow, and I don’t like the term, anyway. I think it’s a stupid term for art that revolves around monsters and whatever. It’s popular culture, basically. And I use some of that, of course … but I do it differently. I switched over to fine arts. For some reason, people couldn’t actually believe that I could paint. They thought all I could do was just cartoons. I thought, “Fuck you, man. Here, I’ll show you.” But I like realism. It’s a different challenge than just comics.
[My work has] a sceniastic structure. I take them from photographs and place them together. Movies are definitely a stronger influence on my work than any other thing.
Have you found more opportunities to wing it in the art world here?
Definitely. [In Europe] if you mention you showed in a cafe, you’re career is done. You’re considered a hobby artist. It’s not about making money: It’s about making a name. Press is, like, the most important thing. I used to be part of the Stuckists [an international group of contemporary figurative artists]. I headed the chapter [but am no longer with them]. … All they do is bitch about artists who are successful; they don’t do any art. Also, they got involved with Scientologists; I don’t really want to collaborate with people like that, with that stigma. It’s bad for my career.
Is it only bad for your career, or do you disagree with it, too?
No, I mostly disagree with it. It’s probably good for my career. I just don’t feel comfortable with sharing profits or sharing business with someone who takes money to increase their sect, or whatever.
What about the American art world do you like?
It’s less complicated. People are approachable. It feels freer. Here, you also have options. … You have East Coast, conceptual, and West Coast, [figurative is] popular. It’s crazy. This whole lowbrow thing fed into it. It’s almost like it’s too much, because people are just copying each other. … They all look the same, all doing the same shit. I would never try to cut my teeth [in NYC]. I wouldn’t want to deal with all those schmucks.
Are there any contemporaries you like?
There’s a few kick-ass artists that are talented, but I couldn’t quite—I don’t even want to quote them, ’cause I don’t give a shit (laughs). I just care about what I do. No, I am joking, of course.
But are you?
Joking? Um, not really. There’s a few guys, but it’s the whole scene. I have a hard time associating with lowbrow. I kind of try to get into the stuff, but then my art would be too fine art for them; it wouldn’t be poppy enough for them.
What’s the story behind “Saddle Up” [on the cover]?
It’s illustrating a war story about my great uncle. I never met him, and my grandma told me the story. … The story is when he and his buddy, they tried to break out of an encirclement when they were circled by Russians. He made it, but his friend didn’t. So after the war, for some reason, he had a good relationship with the Americans there; they gave him two horses. So he took the two horses and gave it to the widow of his buddy who died. … When you think about it, about what happened, it’s just really intense. So those two horses basically represent that, and the skull, death. And people like skulls. It’s a big seller. You paint a skull, you can sell any painting.
How do you like Sac?
It’s great. … There is a little thriving scene. I have to admit, most of the art that’s shown here is bad. It’s bad art. It’s my personal opinion. Another one. But I think there are good artists here, they just do their work outside of Sacramento. Like Skinner. He’s a good artist. His is totally lowbrow, which is not my thing. I just hate that little monster shit. It’s like a fad. In 20 years, those little monsters might not be relevant anymore. But that might just be my European arrogance.
But Skinner’s a great guy. His approach to the whole art world is different. It just shows me it doesn’t have to be all cynical, ’cause that’s more me.
You know Nathan Cordero? He’s actually talented, I think. You asked me about contemporaries: It would be Nathan Cordero. It’s not so much his art, ’cause when I first saw it, I didn’t know him, and I was like, “What the fuck is that? Cigarette butts? Jesus.” Then I got to know him. It was just his approach and his perspectives. … That’s a true artist. Skinner as well: He never went to art school. Those two guys. In Sacramento. Not in San Francisco, not in New York City, not [Los Angeles]. Sacramento.
Are you afraid your “European arrogance,” as you called it, turns off people?
No, I was joking about that. Most people I talk to think I’m from New York anyway. It doesn’t matter. They think, “Oh, you got this fucking attitude because you’re from the East Coast,” ’cause I don’t look European and don’t have the accent. I think if you’re an artist, you can talk however you want to talk. It’s fucking Hollywood.
Where do you want to end up?
Probably in the movie industry, but at the same time, doing my art. I want to break out in the scene. I want to be on the top. I know it’s a game, so to me, it’s like, OK, let’s play the game then. … I share the same attitude like Schwarzenegger has. There are a lot of people who immigrate and realize it’s a game, and they fucking do it. They set some goals, and they do it.