A Labour of Love: Artist interview with Andrew Foster
Andrew Foster is a multi award-winning artist, an Honorary Fellow, and an illustrator. A Senior Lecturer on the recently established and exciting BA Graphics & Illustration course at Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts, he is also a father of two and of three unborn children, who have since formed the inspiration to his last 4 years of artwork.
His upcoming exhibition, Labour of Love, will be at the Camden Image Gallery between 21st - 26th May, and includes a giant 75ft scroll painting, coupled with joyous yet uncomfortable inflatable hairy sculptures, and a painting Miscarriages of Justice from his previous New York show.
This exhibition intends to breaks down perceptions and provoke the viewer with its joyous aesthetics and challenging content. Ahead of his exhibition we wanted to ask him how art and materials have helped him tell his own story, as well as stories of other men who have been through the same experience.
Andrew will be speaking at our upcoming Free Thinking event this summer at Free Range 2015.
Above image: Pain will not have the last word (detail of 75ft scroll)
Miscarriage of Justice
Hi Andrew. Firstly, how would you describe yourself as an artist?
I trained as an illustrator and I've always called myself an illustrator, but people often don't see me as one. I'm commercially seen as a painter, which can irritate me, because I'm proud to be an illustrator. But then in the gallery world I've got the albatross of being an illustrator. The conflict goes on, but really I make pictures, and I choose to apply them to different things.
You work with a lot of mixed media, but what is it that ties your practice together? There seems to be a lot of religious themes as well as pop cultural references in your paintings?
Attitude ties my work together, whether its commercial or personal. It's always about content. Content inspires me to play with materials. There are lots of key themes in my practice, be it sexual or religious, and it is often autobiographical. Sexual relations could be linked to HIV, fetish and miscarriage.
How do you think teaching helps your practice evolve?
I've taught in a number of leading art institutions at under and post graduate level, and it really is a privilege to teach. At best, it's tapping into student potential, giving them the confidence to dig deeper. To watch that all unlock is amazing. I expect total commitment from my students and I can be seen as brutal if they do not give it, but those who work very hard say the opposite, that I'm very critical and supportive. I've always taught a couple of days a week and it gives me time to not think about me, time to think about other people, the space to breathe. To see good work from your students is just as exciting as going to a great exhibition - it's a real joy to see.
On the Ark
Can you talk a little about the theme of miscarriage? It’s obviously a very personal and sensitive subject but a very powerful one for your recent work.
My exhibition at the Camden Image Gallery is called Labour of Love. It was a brilliant title by my wife! It shows a body of work that I've been working on for four years, that began to surface within my New York show, ‘Resurrections’.
My wife and I had three miscarriages. We already had two kids which I guess you could say cushioned the blow, but we were coming up to 40, you know, wondering whether we should have another child. I found people would ask "How's your wife?" Only a few very close friends actually asked how I was feeling. It's not a criticism of friends and family, but it shocked me that there was this perception that it was only the woman going through it.
This went on for six months, a year...it was a long time and I had so much to say on it but I couldn't think of anything. So eventually I decided to do something and raise some money. I got in touch with The Miscarriage Association and explained my scenario, and I got this supportive reply from the National Director Ruth Bender-Atik, saying they were currently working on a campaign for partners of miscarriage. I ran 2 half and 2 full marathons which was a wonderful challenge and an incredible privilege to be involved in, raising close to £4000.
Pain will not have the last word (detail of 75ft scroll)
I was in the studio one dull afternoon, felt completely stuck, so I decided to draw on this scroll of paper that had been lying around in my studio for ages. ‘I was thinking about how my babies are dead, where have you gone.' That was it; that was all I was thinking. But that first moment of red, where I touched the scroll, I knew I was doing something that was really important, and I felt totally liberated within about a split second. This paper is like blotting paper, it bleeds, and you lose control instantly, and it changed how I made pictures. There were only 2 edges, it felt totally new and exciting for me. I started working on the scroll, and I got about 15 feet in and took it to a lecture I was giving to some MA students. I was worried at first, wondering whether I should really talk about it (as a man). I didn't really know what I thought about miscarriage, other than it's horrible. Regardless, I took the scroll to the lecture and the response was incredible. People told me to keep going, they were moved, fascinated and felt as a man my story was powerful.
There are hideous statistics, approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies can result in miscarriage; it appears everyone knows someone who's been through it. It's so common yet such a taboo. So with that encouragement I took it to Ruth, the head of the Miscarriage Association, and her words were so positive. It gave me more power and belief in myself to keep making imagery about it. I also began to research other men’s stories and included some of them in the scroll.
Working on the scroll was time to spend with my three miscarried kids. I took them to the fair, played in the park, gave presents at Christmas. It was really everyday stuff, that is obviously so precious. As I progressed the scroll I wondered if it was like burying my kids, but it wasn't, I buried a bit of me, and I was celebrating them. The scroll is about 75 feet long, and it took two years to complete.
Let’s talk about the other pieces in your show - the inflatable sculptures?
After my New York show I continued drawing a lot of toys, and I've always been interested in looking at the everyday, relationships, fetishism and throwaway objects. Research led me to look at hair and its texture. This began by crudely sticking hair on toys. Often my work begins by just trying things, positioning elements that don’t go together. But they had no power as objects. Then I went on holiday and there were all these inflatables in the pool and the scale and impact were just fantastic. They just made me smile. So I bought a load and put hair with them. Hair removed from the head is disgusting. These objects became repellant symbols of joy. It was a double-edged sword, and the material was about contrast.
I draw a lot of my objects, toys, hairy inflatables sculptures within the scroll. I’m also interested in tigers, I see traits in them that reflect aspects of me; they're selfish and loners. I was thinking of cats, furs and fur balls and it all linked in with this feeling of repulsion that miscarriage brings. So the inflatable sculptures helped inspire me to create these three hairy kids that I took on a journey within the scroll painting.
Which are your favourite art materials and why? Do you find some are better than others for exploring such sensitive issues?
Materials are exciting! It's like going into a sweet shop when I go into an art shop. One material doesn't do it; it's about friction and contrast for me. Whether it's about the contrast between airbrush and paint, varnish, biro, hair, inflatables...it's all about utilising qualities of material in line with what you want to describe. But in terms of favourites...I have a flavour of the month! At the moment I'm finishing a piece of work that's using rollerball pens and cheap wrapping paper. That idea came from Christmas morning, when the kids are going bananas, ripping all the paper of their presents. It’s a great symbol, a memory of that moment of sheer excitement. So I bagged it all up and kept it. I've been drawing hair along the folds of the paper, and made a diptych out of it. It’s like a visual memory of that precious moment. The magic of Christmas lasts for such a short time, perhaps between the ages of 4 and 10 for young children, and it was something I wanted to capture.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
You'll be giving a talk at Free Thinking, our series of talks and events to inspire young creatives, at Free Range in the summer. But what are you going to be talking about?
This! This important body of work and how it relates to my commercial practice.
When is the exhibition, and where?
Labour of Love will be on show at the Camden Image Gallery.
The exhibition is open from Thursday 21st – Tuesday 26th May and the oening hours are 12 - 7pm daily. The Private View is Wednesday 20th May from 6-9pm.
The exhibition is being held in collaboration with UK charity the Miscarriage Association, as part of its Partners Too campaign. Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts are also supporting this project by raising money for The Miscarriage Association and helping with printing.
Find out more about Andrew Foster's work on his website.