Finding beauty in still-life and student work

Back in his university days at Mount Allison, William Forrestall visited the Whitney Museum in New York City. In the retrospective of American art from the 1960s and ‘70s were two still-life paintings by William Bailey.

“It was almost like they were whispering across the room while everyone was yelling and that whispering caught my attention,” Forrestall said.

In that moment, Forrestall knew he was going to paint still-life art. He went to an art shop and bought what he now says was the worst black-and-white still-life painting.

“It was the start of something that evolved with time.”

Forrestall, who teaches art at St. Thomas University, has spent the last few years harnessing that talent with shows across Canada, the United States, Japan and China. But for the Nova Scotia native, art is about much more than technique.

“I want to be focused on what life is about. Life is about passing. We’re all here for a brief period of time and we sort of wrestle with time. It’s one of the great mysteries,” he said. “Still-life painting is a poetic form of accepting and defying the nature of time.”

Forrestall grew up in an artistic family. His parents and siblings are also involved in the arts. His father, Tom, is one Canada’s best known magic realist painters.

“It just seemed so normal, to just do paintings, and this kind of creative enterprises.”

But it was clear to Forrestall that he had to grow for himself. Thankfully, he always had the support of his family.

He started teaching at STU when the department was looking for someone to teach a course on drawing and sketching.

Students work on their art in one of Forrestall’s classes. (Young Joo Jun/AQ)

Forrestall encourages his students to not be afraid of showing their paintings, their emotions and in general, their art. He organizes student exhibitions inside the university so they can feel proud of their work.

“You want to be the best artist you can be, and I want you to be the best artist you can be because nobody is going to be the same as you.”

Forrestall doesn’t judge, he tries to see the beauty and emotions in each piece. He knows everyone has something to say, and enjoys discovering their inner thoughts through art.

His advice for students pursuing an artistic career is to connect with an audience.

“If you are writing poetry, don’t stick it under your bed. Look for feedback. Some will be critical and some will be good, and both are fine. Connect with people.”

Right now, he’s working on three writing projects as a member the International Association of Art Critics. He interviews other artists and writes essays about art, which he loves.

He is an expert at time management and strives for perfection. He works as a professor, paints and writes.

To challenge himself, Forrestall likes to start a new project every time he feels stuck.

“It’s both a strength and a weakness because I want to finish other projects too, but it helps me keep painting.”

Wearing a customary brown jacket, jeans and shoes, he seems as comfortable in front of a class as he is in his own skin.

“Never forget who you are, as art is who you show yourself.”

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