Artist Nicholas Forker is a force to be reckoned with. His hand drawn images of astronauts in typical American settings are both visually and thematically striking. Forker draws his pieces on mylar sheaths with ballpoint pens, an intricate technique for creating realistic figures in seemingly unrealistic scenarios. Milk Made’s Mike Abu got a chance to sit down with the young artist and talk about art, space and the future of mankind.

Milk Made: Were you super into space as a kid?

Nicholas Forker: No, not really. The idea for the astronaut is based on my ideas about evolution and the disappearing role of the hero. I started thinking a number of years ago about how a lot of people feel dissatisfied, misplaced, or commodified in some way, and I tried to figure out why that was. I think a lot of the reason deals with how things like living passionately and taking responsibility for who you are have faded away. I was wondering how I could express that. I started drawing all kinds of different adventurers–underwater, space, wild west, conquistadors–adventurers from all over the timeline. When I drew that astronaut, it was like a eureka moment. It just clicked.

MM: There’s a lot of social commentary in your art, right?

NF: Yeah, but I try not to be overly religious or political because I feel like those ideas exclude people by their very nature. I like people, and I want to bring in as many people as want to be a part of it. The astronaut is a metaphor speaking to the American experience in the late 20th century, the disappearing role of the hero and the juxtaposition between everyday and heroic moments. It’s like taking somebody who is very heroic and putting them on the couch. We’re the same, we have a common thread that bonds all of us together, and there’s no difference that [the astronaut] has a really cool job. Taking control of who you are, that’s what’s heroic. My dad works to this day at the same grocery store that he met my mother in when he was 17, and that is heroic to me. Everyday people are the heroes, and that’s one of the themes that I’m portraying in the next body of work.

MM: Do you plan on sticking with astronauts as your main characters in the future?

NF: Well, I have a show in 2012 and that’s gonna be all astronauts. From there it’ll change, but I guess it really depends on where I am at that point. I have ideas about what I want to do, but I’m not in 2013 yet, so I don’t need to worry about it. If your question is: "Will I be drawing astronauts forever?" probably not, but for the next year, yes, everyday. Maybe in the years to come, people will be like, "But I really love your astronauts," and I’ll be like, "Ah man, that was 200 billion years ago"…

But listen, I remember when we first talked at the Mercury Lounge, and you were all, "I just want to talk about space," right?

MM: Yeah, I get really excited about things sometimes…

NF: But no, but that had me really excited! I’ve been going online, doing a bunch of homework, writing stuff down, taking note of different philosophers and scientists. Your excitement had me all jazzed! I mean, when’s the last time you took notes?

The angle I decided to take for talking about space wasn’t just facts–I wanted to get down to the evolution of how we’ve gotten to know what we know. I was interested in the people who played a part in changing the way we perceive space, because it’s pointless without that evolution.

Anytime anyone builds up a wall of facts and theory, someone else comes and knocks it down. Issac Newton‘s second law of spatial activity, force equals mass times acceleration, gave way to Emmanuel Kant, who said neither space nor time can be empirically perceived, they are just elements of a systematic framework that humans use to structure experiences. Carl Friedrich Gauss, who came up with applied spherical geometry, was the one who laid the groundwork for Einstein‘s space-time theory, which talks about how since they’re the same thing, you can apply the same laws for both of them. That’s just fascinating! But really it was Zhang Heng who was the man. He already had it down in the year 120! He knew the shape of the planet and had already spoken about the universe being infinite. That just blows my mind!

MM: Pretty wild…

NF: Right? All that research gave away to this idea about the instant evolution of the neo-human. If you look at the highlights of human development, it’s both the evolution of the organism and the development of our interaction with the environment. Really there’s three distinct strains: biological, anthropological, and cultural. If you look at the periods of time that’s involved, you see life as we know it beginning two billion years ago, the hominid around six million years ago and human beings around one hundred thousand years ago. You see time getting exponentially smaller as it applies to evolution. Why that’s so fascinating to me is because of the nature of the paradigm and how it applies to our current evolution. The agricultural evolution happened ten thousand years ago, the scientific revolution four hundred years ago and the industrial revolution one hundred and fifty years years ago. Now we’re in the technological age, which is only thirty to forty years old. That suggests that we might be able to see evolution happening before our eyes in our own lifetime, and that’s where this metaphor came into play.

The astronaut was at first the most dynamic explorer, and it worked for who we were as Americans. It’s a figure and an icon that means something in our generation, and now that they’ve cut funding to NASA, a new idea has to come replace it. That’s the manifestation of our evolutionary paradigm, one thing dominates and the other fades away. But [Ray] Kurzweil‘s idea of a singularity, the idea that human and artificial intelligence will mesh together, that really fascinates me. I’m interested in the concept of combining neural and molecular biology, where information is piled on top of information until it’s not competitive evolution anymore but a new individual evolution stemming from information. If our minds were to change and we had the ability to benefit from all the universal information that exists, our perceptions would change completely. That’s where the evolution will happen, and that’s where all my work is headed. You got my mind racing! Last night I was up until three in the morning, excited about talking to you! I was like, "I can’t wait to tell him about neo-humans and evolution"…[trails into laughter]

MM: I wasn’t expecting that!

NF: All this stuff came rushing to me and I was so stoked to share it in its raw form while I’m still turning it over in my head. My mind is simmering! I was totally taking queue from how excited you were, and now its almost too much! I’m like, "Whoa dude, come back to earth, cause nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about!" [laughter] But I mean, the one main thing we can take from it is that each period of evolution gets exponentially smaller. I think that isn’t an accident, and that we’re headed towards something.

If I can weave these new ideas into my artwork, then that’s great. That’s what it’s all about, moving forward together. Once you have information like this, you can’t go back–it changes the way you look at things, which then changes the rest of your life. I try to talk about stuff in a way that isn’t cliche and bougie, but it’s true! Information changes the way you perceive your reality, and then you change your reality, and that has a profound impact on everybody else. I think that’s fascinating! So I’m starting with drawings and I’ll see where it goes.

MM: Talk to me about the role of art in social revolution.

NF: Well, revolution implies change. Everyone’s always changing, but I think an overt change has to be elected by the individual. You can’t force anyone to change, they have to decide they’re going to change themselves. If that’s true, then you have to plant the seed for change. I want to impart an idea in my art in a noninvasive way that can be developed naturally. I use a bit of trompe-l’oeil to bring people in, trying to fool the eye through technique and humor. Hopefully once I have you there and you’re interested, we can talk, and if we can talk then I might change your mind. I think that’s how it works. It’s a demonstration of technique but it’s all under the thought of planting a positive idea, you know? I’m not interested in telling you your opinion of my art, I’d rather keep the theme to myself until you experience the work and have a chance to sit through it. Ultimately it’s about the work. Once they have spent time with it, we can talk about it.

So that’s what revolution means to me. Revolution is about the individual electing to change. And you can’t force anyone to change, they have to do it on their own.

MM: What do you think about the space program now that the shuttle has been retired?

NF: I believe in the space program, no matter what state it’s in now, and I know that at some point in my life, I will be in space. [laughs] I just know it! Another thing that drew me to the astronaut is that [space exploration] is a multinational, cooperative thing. I don’t want to give my power to something negative, I want to highlight what we did right so that maybe we’ll do more of it. Plus, it’s a cool looking suit! Drawing it is fun, as well it should be.

I did a photo shoot for reference material for the next series of drawings I’m going to do, and everyone was having a blast. People were just stoked! [Forker pauses to show us some photos of him walking around Brooklyn in a spacesuit] These are reference photos for the next series that are gonna be in the show, so I would appreciate it if you kept them between us.

MM: Totally.

–Mike Abu

Photos By: Kaia Balcos

Nicholas Forker

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