Denzil Forrester: Itchin & Scratchin

Denzil Forrester, Night Strobe, 1985.
Denzil Forrester, Catch a Fire, 2010. Copyright Denzil Forrester. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.
  • Denzil Forrester, Night Strobe, 1985.
  • Denzil Forrester, Catch a Fire, 2010. Copyright Denzil Forrester. Courtesy the artist and Stephen Friedman Gallery, London.

Exhibition Launch: Fri 7 Feb, 6.30-11pm

Spanning more than 40 years, Itchin & Scratchin is Denzil Forrester’s most significant institutional show to date, bringing together a wide range of paintings and drawings by the Grenada-born British artist. The exhibition roams from London to Rome and New York, from Jamaica to Cornwall. Pulsing with music and movement, these nocturnal scenes are by turns intimate and ecstatic, singular records of the Afro-Caribbean experience in Britain.

As an art student in the late 1970s, Forrester was a regular at East London’s dub-reggae clubs. There he began to make drawings of MCs, DJs and dancers, strobes and sound-systems. His sketches were made on rolls of A1 paper, in the time it took to play a single track; done quickly on dark dancefloors, they captured energy and rhythm as much as form and colour. These sketches became transformed into vibrant paintings: “I go drawing at night and during the day I paint.”

Dub music was developed in Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1960s, around the time Forrester moved from Grenada to London. It involved creating remixed instrumental versions of vocal tracks, and manipulating them with a range of effects – echo, reverb, delay. These effects are central to Forrester’s paintings, many of which are titled for dub records.


Forrester visited Kingston for the first time last year, and here are presented a new body of work shaped by Jamaica’s sound-systems and open-air parties. Across four decades, Forrester’s work constitutes a remarkable kind of public address, a way of seeing sound.

This exhibition is presented in partnership with Spike Island, in Bristol, where it will be on display from 4 July to 6 September 2020.