Child prodigy becomes youngest artist exhibited at Park West Gallery
Published November 20, 2013
SOUTHFIELD — Prim and proper, pint-sized and already full of passion, Autumn de Forest has become an international sensation in the art world over the last couple of years.
Each painting this 12-year-old creates is from the perspective of a bright-eyed young girl: bursting with color, offering creativity in seemingly mundane things and made with love, as each piece is finished off with her signature, accompanied by a heart or even a kitten face.
But her success far surpasses what many artists ever accomplish in their entire career. She’s now Park West Gallery in Southfield’s youngest artists to be added to the roster, and Albert Scaglione, founder and owner, said it’s a career-defining moment for them both.
“This is different in that I’m watching a developing human being, and I cherish it,” Scaglione said about the self-trained artist. “I’d like to help keep her spirit as pure as I can,” he added, pointing to the concerns of growing up in the public’s eye, which comes with admiration and criticism, since art is such a subjective field.
Scaglione has been in the business since 1969 but says the youngest artist he’s worked with is still old enough to be de Forest’s parent. So what was his approach to doing business with a preteen girl?
“I knew I couldn’t discriminate,” he explained. “I said, let’s learn who she is, have a relationship that cuts through how old she is.”
Scaglione said his role has been an opportunity to not just sell art with a prominent and surely promising artist, but to advise, serve as a mentor and even be a listener. Part of him also feels the need to watch over her, he added.
The young de Forest, who lives in Las Vegas, remembers the day it all started in the garage a few years ago, when she saw her dad working in there.
“I just asked to mess around,” she said, describing a “small canvas” about the size of her own body. She used paint to make a more abstract burst of colors on the canvas, she remembers — an image full of shapes and movement.
Like any 5-year-old, de Forest wanted to show off her art, first to her parents and then to the public. It was at a local art show that she first displayed her work, though everyone thought it was her father’s work, she said.
With people in awe that her work could be that advanced as a kindergarten-age youngster, she said she began to believe her work was good. But it wasn’t until the spotlight moved fully on her, like when she appeared on Discovery Health’s “My Kid’s Smarter Than Me,” that she realized her work was special.
From there, it was Glamour magazine, “The Today Show,” and a flood of interviews and press. She’s been featured on dozens of shows and news segments, and has been the featured artist on several cruise lines. Between the business of traveling and interviewing as a budding artist and still painting around 30 pieces a week, the true young girl still shows through in de Forest.
“When I did ‘The Today Show,’ I went to the American Girl store in New York,” she said, excitedly. “I just had to go.”
Her vision as an artist goes far beyond color palettes and technique, too: she’s an artist with a purpose already. In addition to doing work for various charity efforts, de Forest said painting is an opportunity to show the world how important art is.
“I want to inspire people and change the world for the better,” she said. “When I heard art was being taken out of schools, I was so worried.”
Among her biggest fears is a world without kids doodling and wanting to show their parents their work and put it up on the refrigerator for everyone to see — similar to the same enthusiasm that captured the de Forest family after her first attempt in the garage seven years ago.
For de Forest, inspiration comes through everyday things in life: toys, like the Barbie Marilyn Monroe painting she did that came from a doll she had, or just the dreams of a young girl, the one that depicts a field of flowers where de Forest says she envisions running about, doing handstands and cartwheels.
Inspiration can come anywhere, at any time, she added, like from watching TV. That’s how the painting “Whale (What’s Next?)” came to be: the moment she realized whales were being killed.
“It was so sad to know that I might never see a whale in person,” she said about the day she saw a commercial for the show “Whale Wars.”
Her spin on “American Gothic,” a Depression-era painting by Grant Wood, demonstrates a world she hopes to see, bursting with color and optimism.
“I wanted to have some fun with it. … The crayon represents my personality and my hope that another depression won’t happen again,” de Forest explained.
Ask de Forest what’s next for her, and her ideas are endless: learning more techniques, attending Yale, getting better at archery, preparing to give a lecture on arts in education at Harvard University … and the list goes on.
Scaglione, who has been working with de Forest since last January, said things have moved quickly since then and will continue to. That’s because she’s got the recipe for success, he explained.
He attributes de Forest’s rare gift to a perfect storm of talent, the dedication of her parents and maybe a tad bit of luck.
“First and foremost, though, it’s her talent. She’s an only child and comes from six generations of artists,” he said, “Like a thoroughbred, she’s born to paint.”
The artist comes from a line of known and collected 20th century painters, including Roy de Forest (1930-2007), Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) and George de Forest Brush (1855-1941). She is the youngest living descendant of Robert W. de Forest, who was the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in N.Y.C., where the American Wing was named in his honor.
Her family has also made decisions to home school de Forest, who is on the road two months out of the year, sometimes five days at a time. In addition to her fourth-grade virtual academy, she has mentors and even an elocutionist, Scaglione noted. This makes her not just a growing artist, but a polished young lady.
And it all adds to her appeal, he said: “Everything she puts in front of the public sells.”
She is excited about all the opportunity she’s getting as an artist this young, not to mention what she’ll get to do as an adult, but there’s really just one thing on de Forest’s mind.
“I wouldn’t call it fame, just a step toward changing the world,” she said.
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