COMMOT!ON Interviews + Maria Forde


If you’re a regular reader of ours you might remember a while back when we wrote about San Francisco based artist, Maria Forde.  Needless to say we were floored by her work.  The level of creativity and the strength of her voice are impossible to miss.  Well, we traded a few emails with her and what do you know?  It’s an interview.

We’re honored to make this interview the inaugural piece of what we hope to turn into a regular feature and give you, our readers, an insightful look into the work and worlds of some of the most interesting and talented individuals out there, like Maria.

So without any further ado…

Commotion: When did you start drawing and painting?

Maria Forde: I didn’t really make art much when I was a kid. I’m from a small town in Iowa and one lady taught all the art classes. I mean… Fifth grade to twelfth. And she was not a good teacher. I think she hated her job. I watched lots of movies and rode my bike around and shot baskets. I went to school at university of Iowa and I had no idea what I’d do. And after two years I took a drawing class and then just sorta kept taking art classes.

Read the rest of the interview and see more of Maria Forde’s work after the jump!


C: The images in your work play with a sense of nostalgia or harkens back to a more innocent time and place.  What attracted you to this point of view?

MF: I guess I make art about my life and what I’ve experienced. Whatever that adds up to. It wasn’t my intention to make something sentimental. Or worse, that I desire to relive something I’ve already been thru…. I just started thinking… and I’m horrified to believe that maybe just because my work is pretty straightforward and I guess “earnest” that it doesn’t fit in with our super-satirical culture. Maybe that makes my work seem … weird.

I make it for certain reasons and then it goes out in the world and hopefully it connects with other people. And you know… everyone has their own experience of what it means to be alive and if something that I do somehow resonates for them in a positive way… then [that’s] awesome.

In regards to describing what my work is supposed to “be” about… I’m just… me. I would prefer people didn’t consider me “endearing” or “quaint” or “charming” or worse… “quirky”. Because those associate with me someone who is trying to stand out and be unique. I’ve explained to people before that I think being artistic means to do something well. So that can be someone who is a plumber or a mom or a farmer. You don’t need to draw for me to think you are creative. I think the majority of “art” people don’t really know what to make art about so they look around and copy. Owls… bicycles… geometric shapes… etc. people just jump on the bandwagon because they want some success and attention.


C: Are those stories in your drawings true?  I’m thinking of your “people I see” drawings specifically.  You seem to be a very keen observer of daily life.  Is that where you draw your inspiration?

MF: Yes yes! I’d never just make shit up. I started making my “people I see” doodles when I was in a bad place in my life a few years ago. I went to Office Max and got these pieces of Manila paper and told myself to try to make one drawing a day. To try to keep myself looking and trying to see something interesting in life. And then I just sorta kept it up. Not every day but whenever I hear or see something I wanna draw. It’s funny you ask about them. I really hesitate even putting them on my site. I spend a couple minutes on them. Sort of a warm up exercise to other projects or whatever. But again… I appreciate them and I feel I’ve learned a lot from doing them.

C: Is work something that comes naturally to you?  Or do you find that you have to force yourself to sit and focus to get the creative juices flowing?

MF: Well… I can say I can usually sit down and make something. I do have a surplus of ideas in my head. I hear people say they need to have an art show or something in order to get them to make work. That is not how I work.  So far art is never something I have to “force” myself to do. I feel grateful for that.

C: Can you tell me a little bit about “read this to get your enjoys”?

MF: I love books and comics and zines. It’s very intimate.  And personal. And I see my art as a way for me to communicate with people. And so… I was listening to some country music (Bob Wills) and someone sang “so come along with me to get your enjoys” or something like that I’m really inspired by my friends. And wanted to try to be an editor. To share with others what inspires me. So I asked friends to contribute pretty specific things. I even chose the folks in each issue the way I think musicians decide to make songs for an album.


C: Any good music/movies/books you’ve enjoyed lately?

MF: I did watch and interesting documentary about girls b-ball in Seattle. “The Heart of the Game.” I braced myself for some smarmy maudlin crap but I was pleased with it.

I’ve been reading a biography of Alfred Hitchcock and so rewatching his movies. Boy he’s a weird dude.

Just went to see some music last night. The band is Harvey Milk. Pretty incredible. I told a friend that was at the show that “if I had any tumors they would have been dislodged by all that loud gonging bass”

I just got the second and third volume of Frank King’s comic strip “Gasoline Alley.”  One of my favorite discoveries by far this year. He’s a genius.

Also pretty into this photographer… August Sander. He was German.

C: Who are your favorite artists?  These could be painters, actors, musicians whoever.  Who inspires you right now?

MF: Most of these are still pretty [much] at the top of my list.

Totem books “introducing” series.  I discovered these when I was going to school at [the] University of Iowa. Most everything seems very abstruse to me so when someone successfully explains a concept to me I greatly appreciate it. Especially it is something like philosophy or physics or some shit.

Chester Brown, he’s an incredible amazing comic book artist. “ED The Happy Clown” is pretty much my most favorite thing ever.

Norman Rockwell, I remember reading people would line up down a street waiting to buy a magazine that had one of his illustrations on the cover. I read a biography about him and he was so obsessed with his work. He even worked on Xmas day. I feel he is largely misunderstood. Extremely intelligent guy

Charles Schultz, he’s pretty fundamental to the entire scope of comics, and to me, art history. I think Leonardo da Vinci said once the hardest thing for him to draw was a perfect circle. And I always think of Charlie Brown’s head and how beautiful it is. Every time he drew it.


A State of Mind.  This is a documentary I saw a few years ago about North Korea and this huge spectacle they have called “The mass games”. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite so amazing. It’s this weird combination of gymnastics and music and dancing and visual stuff. Google that shit. First time a westerner was allowed to enter and film a documentary.

The True Meaning of Pictures.  A documentary I saw many years ago. About an Appalachian photographer. Shelby Lee Adams. And the people he was friends with and photographed. So interesting. So hard to believe people still live up in the “holler” in great poverty. But there is such a dignity to how they are photographed. And Adams is very eloquent. His camera is really cool.

A. G. Rizzoli.  I found a book about this guy many years ago at U of Iowa. (I think I was drawn to him because his work reminded me of Chris Ware for some reason) Rizzoli was an outsider artist who made these elaborate architectural drawings of buildings that were supposed to be anthropomorphic. Like his mother or the little girl down the street. Beautiful draftsman and great imagination.


He slept at the foot of his mother bed in a cot even after she died. His grand master art plan was this pretend city. He was an architect so he knew how to draw blue prints for a city. But his is way way weird and cool.

David Foster Wallace. Gotta say I’ve still been crying on and off because of his death last weekend.  He was such a smart funny writer. And hyper aware of the world around him. So very articulate. Which is…. unfortunately rare.

Neil Young, I really admire his curiosity and how he just keeps plugging away making music. (I love transformer man)

The Farmer’s Wife, it’s like a ten-hour documentary of a Nebraskan farm family struggling through the farm crisis of the 1980’s.

Geoff Dyer, really creative writer. He wrote a book, “Out Of Sheer Rage” It’s a travel book that is actually all about how he had wanted to write a biography of D.H. Lawrence but failed. I love that he found that out of his failure he created an amazing piece of art. Really proves that art is in the trying not necessarily in the success.

C: If you could collaborate with anyone on a project who would it be?

MF: I just finished reading a collection of all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories. I’d love to travel back in time and have her write a comic for me to draw. Or do a stop time animation title sequence for someone like Sam Peckinpah or Alfred Hitchcock. (Saul Bass is probably at the super duper top of my inspiration list).

Jamel Shabazz! He is a really great NY street photographer.


C: If there’s one thing you want people to take away from your work, what would if be?

MF: It seems like I am trying to be careful and aware of all the parts. That I am trying to create stuff that is dynamic and rewarding to someone who has decided to give it their attention. That my work doesn’t seem phony or arrogant or derivative or repetitive or boring. That they can see that my work isn’t just about me, but more about me trying to connect to some one else.

I guess that’s more than “one thing.”


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