Joseph Forbish’s early metal creations were parts he fabricated for his race cars. When his wife’s two metal artist cousins showed up at a Christmas party with handmade presents for relatives, Joe figured he could do that, too. “I went out in the garage one day,” he said, “and made a silly little cat sculpture from scraps.” And thus a career was launched.
Teaching himself metal art was natural for Forbish. A very intelligent person, he has chosen the route of self education throughout his adult life, teaching himself web design and CAD programming, as well as techniques for the metal, wood, concrete, glass, stone and paint that appear in his work. He learned from books, the internet and TV. “I watched silly shows like Monster Garage and American Chopper,” he said. “My wife hated the shows but I told her I was picking up techniques from the shows.”
Joseph has always lived in Portland. Since childhood, his family encouraged his creative endeavors, including claymation, cartooning, painting and drawing. His dad was a pretty good artist, he said, and his grandmother stitched an extraordinary collection of wall hangings. Unfortunately, the downside of being a cat lady is that 40 cats yearning to sharpen their claws take a toll on needlepoint. Very few of her pieces survive to this day.
After Joseph left high school, he worked at Les Schwab for seven years. He mastered all the mechanical tasks there, winding up as a technician doing brakes and shocks. His last three years at the tire giant overlapped with the first three years of JF Metalwerx, his art business.
Some of his early designs are still popular wholesale items. His functional work includes clocks, racks for pots and pans, and cat and dog shaped wine holders, which look like the animals are drinking from the bottle. Joseph experimented with different ways of selling his work, including a long run on eBay. He built up his wholesale business through attending trade shows. Currently he wholesales to stores around the region, and to farther flung places like Florida and Minnesota.
While the logistics of wholesaling necessitate making and distributing many small pieces, Joseph would really like to be known for his gates, railings and commissioned sculptures. So far, he sells most of his larger pieces by word of mouth.
Joseph works with many different materials, but his primary medium is metal, steel being his favorite. “It patinas nicely,” he said. “You can rust it, stain it, heat it, and hammer it, among various other things. It’s strong and beautiful and relatively inexpensive. You can use your imagination and do anything you want with steel.” He’s also a big fan of copper, but bemoans the high price.
Three years ago, JF Metalwerx needed to move into a bigger space. Joseph found his current enormous studio in NW Portland’s J.A. Freeman warehouse, a building more than a hundred years old where hay balers were once manufactured. When Joseph moved in, Ryan Birkland, an Urban Art Network member, also had a studio in the building. Ryan encouraged Joseph to show his work at First Thursday. Joseph’s been part of the Street Gallery ever since. This year he volunteered to be a block captain, which means looking out for other artists on his block and taking care of any problems. As a person who is fond of order, Joseph enjoys these responsibilities. “Things should run smoothly and people should pay attention,” he said of art events. “They shouldn’t try to be cool. They should do what needs to be done.”
Joseph recently designed, built and installed his first bike rack in front of Lensbabies, a Camera Lens manufacturer in Southeast Portland. “I want to get my foot in the door making bike racks,” he said. “I have tons of ideas for bike racks, and of ways to store bikes.”
Joseph is serious about his work, and about the quality of his life. Thoughtful and genuine, he doesn’t take concepts like friendship or love lightly, and he warns that he has never been able to smile on command when people take his picture. With his first daughter on the way, he’s thinking about what’s important in life. “I just want to be happy, support my family, and have people appreciate what I do,” he said. “Wealth is a whole lot more than money. It’s the whole package to me.”
—by Teresa Bergen
Visit Joseph’s Profile Page where you can view more images of his work and read his Artist's Statement.