Another hidden gem of Westmont’s art collection

Will Mundell, Staff Writer

The next installation of my series aims to feature the many under-appreciated pieces in Westmont’s permanent collection, in particular “Jacob Wrestling the Angel,” featured prominently in the foyer of Porter Theater, 

The artist, Wayne Forte, was born in Manila, Philippines, in 1950 and lived in Santa Barbara for most of his adolescence before studying art at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the University of California, Irvine (UCI). Forte was engaged in art from a young age and showed talent during his years in the art classrooms of San Marcos High School (my alma mater), where he impressed teachers enough to have a piece hung in the faculty lounge. The Forte family residence in Hope Ranch featured a studio space that Wayne happily filled with many works throughout his teenage years. 

Forte’s artworks reflect his long-standing Christian belief and his experience growing up as one of the only Asians in a predominantly white school system. Growing up with the ever-present feeling of separateness from his community in Santa Barbara, his home country of the Philippines caused Forte to resonate with the most unabashedly human stories in the Bible. His depictions of scenes like Jacob wrestling the angel or Jonah being swallowed by the whale carry a gritty sincerity that can sometimes be absent in other religious or devotional art.

Forte’s belief that biblical stories should be revisited is central to his view of religious art. As he contemplates this powerful narrative, he invites his viewer to consider it anew and presents the opportunity to confront the flesh and bones that underlie it. For Forte, these stories beg a continuous revisiting because “they are so human and touch such deep parts of our humanity.” 

The piece we have on campus is one of a dozen or so renditions of this particular story that Forte has completed throughout his career and is my favorite of the lot that are available to be viewed online. Something about the lack of color and thick, disjointed strokes of charcoal in this rendition conveys the motion and weight of the biblical scene in a way that a more finished color rendition would fail to do. When viewing this piece, I can imagine watching a real wrestling match between Jacob and the Angel as the moonlight catches on their shining shoulders and foreheads. I can almost hear their robes flap and rustle as their bodies twist and collide in the dust. It seems only fitting that this piece is hung in the theater where student actors strive to master the art of drama and storytelling.

I highly recommend you join Forte in the liturgy of revisiting old stories and stand awhile in front of “Jacob Wrestling the Angel” sometime this week.

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