The sights of Cambridge detailed by Joe Forte
“My belief is if you do it, do it because you love it,” said Forte, who began his artistic career in 1988
Iconic locations in Galt, Hespeler and Preston can be found in stacks of prints by a local artist.
Joe Forte is a visual artist who uses ink to create black and white images of landmarks in Cambridge and cities in other countries around the world. Sometimes he also deals with abstract painting.
“My belief is if you do it, do it because you love it,” said Forte, who began his artistic career in 1988.
Forte has been drawing all his life, but before becoming an artist he worked in the food industry for 28 years. Forte started at Loblaws at the age of 15, bought the family grocery store from his father in 1964 and reopened it in 1966. Over time it grew from a grocery store to a record and book store in 1975.
“I had an open-air fruit market on Highway 24 and a market in Preston. Most of my art was painting signs,” Forte said.
“I’m also good at writing, I make a kind of art statement with my writing.”
In 1980 he closed the shop and began drawing in 1986. In the late 80’s and early 90’s Forte created up to 60 drawings from various locations around Cambridge. Residents would recognize some of the footprints, including the former Canadian Post Office on Dickson Street or the Central Presbyterian Church, but also historic homes and giant trees found in West Galt.
“The streets were so lined with trees that the sun couldn’t get in, but now when you go up there, none of the big trees are left,” Forte said of a place he visited as a kid.
In Forte’s prints one often sees three birds flying in the distance, representing the Holy Trinity. Other birds are sometimes added to represent deceased family members.
“This is my father’s home when he was a little boy, in Villa Massa, Italy,” Forte said, describing a print he made while traveling in Europe.
In addition to Cambridge and Europe, Forte drew inspiration from the United States and made frequent trips to Key West, Florida and New York City. In three-month assignments, Forte sat in these cities 15 hours a day, seven days a week, drawing 20 pieces.
“If you’re in Paris or New York or in Key West, you get really, really badly harassed, especially in New York,” Forte said, calculating between 3,000 and 4,000 would walk past him in 10 hours.
“The thing is, you want to sit somewhere with a lot of traffic because that’s how you make money.”
New York is also where Forte met celebrities like James Gandolfini and comedian Jim Carey while he was drawing. According to Forte, Carey is also an artist and goes by the alias Freedom From Concern, or FFC. Forte spent a week at Carey’s studio producing a custom piece.
“This is Jim Carey’s studio and this is where Jim sits and paints his painting, which is quite large,” Forte said of the piece, which Carey bought the original and a watercolor of.
Forte’s annual pilgrimage to the United States ended eight years ago. The pandemic and medical procedures delayed Forte’s return to the country, but it didn’t stop him.
“Thank god for COVID because I wouldn’t have been smart enough to stop and even smell the roses, I would have just tried to shake it off,” Forte said. “Between not going to the States and being hit by COVID, we were stuck at home for two years. That was healing time.”
Forte doesn’t make much art these days. He is focused on his family and values the time he has with them.
“My children and my grandchildren are the most important things in my life.”
Over 2,000 artworks and 18 books later, Forte doesn’t know what to do with it. Some of his work is in storage while others can be found at Galtview Restaurant and Monigram Coffee Shop. More of Forte’s work can be seen on his website.