Small Wonder

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Artist Autumn de Forest, 10, is being called a child prodigy. She opens her first solo exhibition this weekend at Ocean Galleries

When Doug de Forest first noticed his daughter’s artistic talent, he wanted to capture it, like “lightning in a bottle.”

At the time, Autumn was 5 years old. He was working in the garage when she came up to him and asked if she could try painting something “for fun.”

He handed her a brush, some stain and a piece of plywood.

When he looked back a little while later, she had created a masterpiece, he said.

Autumn remembers the day, too.

“I just started painting, and I realized how fun it was,” she said.

Artist Autumn de Forest, 10, is appearing in Stone Harbor for her first solo exhibition. Artist Autumn de Forest, 10, is appearing in Stone Harbor for her first solo exhibition.   Her parents bought her museum-quality paints and canvases, stood back and let her creativity fly.

Now 10, Autumn de Forest has been called a child prodigy and is creating a sensation in some circles.

She paints in the abstract expressionist style – subjects such as her hot pink Chuck Taylor high-tops, Barbie, American Girl dolls and animals.

But this is not kid stuff.

De Forest has appeared on “The Today Show” and been featured on the Discovery Channel. Stories about her have appeared in Forbes magazine and numerous other publications.

Her work will be on display in her first solo exhibition, opening Friday at Ocean Galleries in Stone Harbor.

And her paintings have sold for as much as $25,000, according to the gallery.

As de Forest walked around the gallery wide-eyed Wednesday, seeing her work exhibited for the first time, she squealed with childlike delight about how the color of the frames complimented her paintings and gushed with pleasure at how the overhead lighting cast no glare on her work.

As the youngster talked, her hands fluttered about, demonstrating some of the various motions she uses on one painting or another. They tugged at her pigtail braids, held back with a hot-pink bandana that matched to her hot-pink maxi sundress and pink Converse sneakers.

“Pink, red and new shiny gold” are her favorite colors, she said. “But I paint with all colors.”

De Forest’s work will be on exhibit 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily through October at the gallery, 9618 Third Avenue in Stone Harbor. For information call 609-368-7777.

Visitors can meet the artist at receptions 7-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Aug. 3 and 4, and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.

Some of the paintings in the exhibit are more than twice her size. Her parents built a special bridge that can be placed across the larger canvases that she can sit on to reach all parts of the surface.

De Forest said that for each piece she paints, she creates a story – normally after it is completed.

For example, her painting “Dueling Flowers” is about a love triangle, she said. A woman received flowers from both her “true love” and another man who passionately loved her, but she didn’t love in return.

“So she put the flowers next to each other and said that the bouquet that overpowered the other would be the man she would choose,” de Forest said. “Then, the flowers from the man that loved her passionately gobbled up the flowers of her true love.”

In the end, the woman realized she couldn’t choose either man, she said.

De Forest spends about three hours a day painting during the week, and longer on the weekends, when she doesn’t have school work. She experiments with different textures and mediums, like hot wax or acrylic paints, as well as different styles. Most recently she has incorporated a “dripping” technique in her pieces, she said, but she also has painted in the style of her favorite artist, Andy Warhol.

When she isn’t painting, she likes watching “I Love Lucy” reruns, swimming, horseback riding, taking ballet classes and playing with her standard poodle, Ginger, and two corn snakes.

She said she loves old movies and music, and wrinkled her nose at the mention of Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber. Besides art, her favorite subject in school is history.

“I like knowing how things were back then,” she said. “I like knowing why wars started and why things were how they were.”

When browsing a case of jewelry at Ocean Galleries, she mentioned that she will be allowed to get her ears pierced when she turns 16. Earrings are her favorite jewelry, she said, and until she can wear pierced, she wears clip-ons.

It’s easy to forget that the young girl has sold more than $250,000 worth of her artwork, won numerous art awards and is a fifth-generation painter on the de Forest side of the family.

“I don’t call myself a child prodigy,” she said when asked if all the attention puts pressure on her. “I don’t get nervous about these things. I just get excited.”

De Forest’s family ties include 20th century painters Roy de Forest, Lockwood de Forest and George de Forest Brush, but she said her talent isn’t only natural.

“I don’t want to say I was born with it,” she said. “I trained it.”

Her parents said she has had no formal training, but that they have encouraged her artistic journey.

“This journey was about asking questions and inspiring her to envision the answer,” her father said.

When Autumn asks questions like “What do fish drink?” he and his wife encourage her to express what she thinks the answer is in her artwork, he said.

Doug de Forest said that when Autumn was young, her art was an expression of the unconscious, but now that she is older, her work contains more literalism about how she sees the world.

Doug points out are paintings Autumn did of a fetus in a mother’s uterus after seeing the Bodies exhibit.

“People bring their own issues to her work,” he said. “They forget that she’s a little girl, who was just fascinated with what a baby looks like inside of a mother’s belly. She doesn’t have a political agenda.”

Katherine de Forest said that if there is one message that can come from her daughter’s work, it is that children can have their talents validated, despite their age.

“Children have the capability to have ideas and talents,” she said. “And it’s really exciting to see her feel validated as a child.”

The young artist seems eager to follow her talent wherever it takes her.

“I wanted to change the world,” she said, “and I thought, how about with painting?” 

Photos by Christie Rotondo


Autumn de Forest joins her parents, Doug and Katherine, at Ocean Galleries. Autumn de Forest joins her parents, Doug and Katherine, at Ocean Galleries.

De Forest talks about her painting, “Moonburst.”
De Forest talks about her painting, “Moonburst.”

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