Artist talk, accompanied by music, anchors exhibit at Beacon Institute
By Alison Rooney
A most appropriate venue, the gallery at the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries (BIRE), is home, through October 5, to Water Way, a solo exhibition of Fredericka Foster’s oil paintings of water.
Foster, widely exhibited and collected, has had five recent solo exhibitions — with many of these paintings included — at New York City’s Fischbach Gallery. In Water Way, Foster, as explained in program notes, “explores waters from the powerful, dramatic fjords of Norway to the urban, industrialized Hudson River, to discover the complex interaction of color, light and energy intrinsic to earth’s most essential element.
Always moving water, using oils, she applies layers of complex colors to canvas, creating a visual vibrancy that embodies her deep connection with water, evoking its urgent challenges.” On Saturday, April 12, Foster will share thoughts on the creative process behind her exhibition in a 5 p.m. talk, accompanied by musical guests MotherLode Trio and Red, in a “celebration of inspiration.”
Speaking with Philipstown.info on the day her exhibit was being hung, Foster spoke of her work, her process and the meaning behind the statement: “By nurturing our relationship with water through her art, Foster seeks to be part of the movement to protect it.” Following are excerpts from that talk.
On how she came to her subject matter
I had been working on a series of paintings on religious symbols. Each one took a tremendously long time because of the learning I had to do — which was tremendously interesting but such a personal inquiry and very, very slow. I discovered that every single religion has water as part of its metaphor. Whether it embodies purity, or renewal, or was used for baptism, Mikvah, or the fountains used [in] Muslim [tradition] – I didn’t find a faith that didn’t use water.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Puget Sound, I was surrounded by water. When I lived in Seattle I spent summers on lakes. When I started painting water, it was amazing. I’ve always loved abstract art but think abstraction and realism are not in conflict — that idea never made any sense. I like working without a recognizable object. Earlier, the paintings of religious symbols fell into that category — all “not quite realistic.”
A quote from Foster’s website
Painting water returned me to my Norwegian heritage, as my great grandmother was a “fishing Sami” living North of the Arctic Circle. The family legend is that she could catch a fish, embroider it on her apron and make a feast for a dozen in an afternoon. Besides inspiring me with memories from living on the lakes and rivers, water, constantly moving and completely abstract, satisfies my desire to paint formally as well as a need to be challenged.
With the water paintings I begin with a photo but I’m not enslaved to it, I change color, composition. I take thousands and wait for one which opens a vision for me. When I work I literally dart from one form to the other; I keep interrupting and looking at it anew. I even change the direction, making the horizontal vertical. At times I get a sudden feeling of wonderful upward movement and the painting shifts. The rhythm gives my paintings their strength and the rhythm comes from seeing the canvas in every direction. Sometimes it leads me to soften things. The way the light intersects at a certain time of day when it’s so bright you can hardly see.
The main thing about the photo is to help establish a believable composition. When I make it up it takes so long to get the water to flow. There’s a geometry in order to flow — water has rules. Rather than taking the time to learn the rules, I use photography.
Because the digital camera captures speed at low light, I’m convinced that, at an unconscious level, artists have absorbed shapes not easily seen. The Haida Indians in the Pacific Northwest use specific, ovoid shapes. I’m working on a painting of Elliott Bay on Puget Sound and there were those forms — they’re there. When they paint, unconsciously these shapes appear. I think water communicates with us. People say they find my work very meditative.
Because my work is very layered, the colors appear as the layers build up; they often start out orange. When you use complementary colors it adds dimension. Because it’s oil, when time goes by it comes more visible.”
On this exhibit
These paintings come from different shows, different bodies of work, and different music is behind each one. This show covers over a decade’s worth of work. Seeing them all together looks fantastic to me. When I paint I’m not trying to express myself, I’m trying to express water in paint. So what I see when I see them all together is my own hand, over time. I see how important the rhythm and color is to me and that a certain kind of drawing grows out of my awkwardness with drawing. For a long time I thought drawing was a defect, then realized that what made my vision what it is are these mistakes. Then I became much freer. It’s that awkwardness that keeps the work alive.
On the connection between her subject and this gallery
After getting the invitation to exhibit, I looked up BIRE and realized their mission was so perfect for me. It gave me an opportunity again to speak to water issues. I’m thrilled with what BIRE does with water monitoring. I’m extremely happy to be here. My work is not didactic — it’s purely aesthetic, so there is rarely a context where I can advocate for clean water.
About the gallery talk
I will talk about the paintings and what I think are important issues facing water — the importance of having chemical free water to the greatest point we can imagine. Taking care of water is taking care of us. Amniotic fluid is salty — it reproduces our source, coming from the sea, and adults are more than 60 percent water. Our brains are encased by water. We’re water filters and we’re totally interdependent with water. You realize that to take care of water is to take care of your own health. For me when I started painting water I found something that engaged every part of my being: emotional, spiritual, intellectual and physical.
Learn more about Fredericka Foster and her work at thinkaboutwater.com.
Photos by A. Rooney