Familiar Faces
By Michael Forbes

none
Year
1995
Media
Oil Painting
Subject Matter
Animals - People
Reg. Number
P597
Size
62.5 x 72.5 cm

Visit artist's website

Michael Forbes produced this oil on board piece in 1995. This artist is a surrealist painter and the image presented in this piece is unusually grounded in reality, with the twist that the scene itself never happened and is a product of the artist's imagination. According to the artist himself, the child in the painting is his own and the cat is his pet, which passed away a short time before the baby was born. In the artist's own words, "the idea behind this picture is that the cat is watching over my son like a magical guardian or a 'familiar'", hence the title 'Familiar Faces'.

The cat in this painting does indeed appear to be on guard, watching the viewer warily, sitting yet alert, while the child maintains a blank look of infant innocence. Otherwise, this piece demonstrates the hallmarks of the artist's style, such as bright colours, strange imagery and a dreamlike quality. The artist has forgone outlines in favour of colour distinction to ensure elements remain clear, giving the piece a clean, print-like quality.

The scene is a garden, with a background made up of a lined lawn, cultivated trees and trimmed hedges under a blue sky with a hint of cloud moving in. The foreground suggests wild and uncultivated undergrowth, with colourful wonders such as the butterfly juxtaposed with dangers lurking in a cloud of bees.

The tendril-like leaves encroaching from the left side of the painting remain ambiguous. The blues and greens of the backgrounds complement each other, yet contrast with the oranges of the cat and child, so that they stand out despite being obscured by the leaves. The colours of the butterflies and bees, on the other hand, are muted and their presence is subdued and hidden. The artist's signature can be found at the bottom-left, along with speckles of white paint.


Michael Forbes was born in 1968 and now lives in Dingwall in the Northern Highlands. A successful artist by the age of 22, despite receiving no formal training, he has exhibited in solo and group shows throughout Britain and across the world. Over a hundred of his paintings are in private collections worldwide. His surrealist artwork has been described as full of "invention and pawky humour" and "windows opening on to an inner landscape".