A new show at the Kemper was inspired by the heyday of London’s Dub scene

A painting by Denzil Forrester/Courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

When dub hit London, Denzil Forrester was there. “Duppy Conqueror,” a new show at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, is a retrospective of paintings and drawings that capture the vivacity of London’s dub reggae night clubs in Margaret Thatcher’s U.K. Dub is a genre of electronic music that remixes the sounds found in traditional reggae. Forrester’s paintings are in themselves “dubs,” as they reconfigure and remix moments he captured in the basement clubs of downtown Kingston. 

A painting by Denzil Forrester/Courtesy of the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

In London, Forrester would sit and sketch clubbers, drawing inspiration from the club’s contagious atmosphere and radiant energy. He was amazed at the rhythm of the crowd moving like a “sea of people.” He would produce a new sketch with every record that played, sometimes leaving the club with dozens of drawings to cultivate his artistic vision. “You give yourself to the whole experience” and allow the music to take hold of you, he says. 

Forrester aimed to bring the energy and movement of the clubs into his paintings. Speakers and disco balls are common motifs throughout the collection. For him, the sound systems represent more than just a speaker but rather “a way to experience community and culture.” He even incorporated speakers and disco balls into paintings of his early life in Grenada and scenes of police brutality in London.

His use of bright yellows, blues and purples adds a positive energy and electric ambiance to the collection. His artistic style, reminiscent of Picasso’s cubism, and his use of fragmented perspective fill his paintings with a buzzing excitement that takes the eyes dancing across the canvas.

The exhibition is broken up into four themes using London’s dub reggae culture and club scene as a lens to explore concepts such as family, police brutality, diaspora and music. It is a vibrant, powerful collection full of life and history. 

GO: Denzil Forrester’s “Duppy Conqueror” is on display through May 7 at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art.

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