Coventry artist Jack Foster has recently returned from a month-long residency in Dresden, Germany as part of the Coventry-Dresden Arts Exchange. This artist-led grassroots initiative was set up by Coventry-based artist John Yeadon back in 2012 to develop dialogue and establish collaborative partnerships between artists from both cities.
We visited Jack’s current solo show “Dresden Paintings” at Classroom Gallery, and have interviewed him to find out more about his stay in Dresden, and this wonderful collection of paintings produced during his residency.
How did you enjoy your stay in Dresden?
I went to Dresden without knowing how I’d respond to seclusion of various kinds- spatial and societal, for the most part. I spoke some German but not enough to hold a conversation worth having. A month is a long time to run an experiment like that on yourself but I learned a lot.
My hosts, Anne and Christian Manss, could not have been more welcoming. They kept me alive for a month whilst I got the painting done.
Dresden was beautiful but extremely cold at the time (February) so I lived between my guest room at and my studio, which I shared with Christian and Anne. I met some great people in Dresden and the experience was invaluable.
Before travelling to Dresden, did you set any objectives, that you wished to achieve through your residency?
I hadn’t had too much time or space to paint in the months leading up to the residency but I had a few sketchbooks filled with ideas. My main objective was to see where I was as a painter. My work tends to tread a line between figurative representation and painterly abstraction and I go back and forth between the two.
Previous to Dresden, I addressed painting in a slightly more playful way, I wasn’t painting with any serious technicality or concern for colour theory. The work that I made was largely based on background figures and drapery in old masters paintings so I wanted to re-learn how to paint, to a degree.
My palette was stripped back to four or five colours (as opposed to my bags of hundreds of tubes that I usually work with), this forced be to get the most out of those colours and figure out new ways to use them. The decision to limit myself in this way also negated most of the decision paralysis when it came to mixing up colours due to the fact that I was mostly working in tone.
What projects did you work on during your stay?
The sketches that I compiled previous to the residency were of draped fabrics, background figures and areas of light and shade- all lifted from old masters paintings, drawn and re-drawn out of context until they became their own image.
These were my starting point and I wrestled with them for a month.
‘Economy of mark’ is a phrase that my friend Mircea Taleaga used when he came to give a guest lecture about his work at Coventry university where I teach. The phrase, as far as I can see, originated with him but I’ve adopted it as a really useful way of talking about the amount of brush marks used to suggest form.
In a lot of classical portraiture, the faces could be said to have a low economy of mark (lots of marks to create the forms) whereas the drapery, background figures and even the sitter’s hands often had quite a high economy of mark (fewer marks to create the form, often tonal sketches).
I am interested in using the spectrum of this economy in different ways. Looking at a painting in this way works like a visual map of time spent in various places, it’s a sort of document of attention.
How do you feel that your time in Dresden benefited your creative practice?
It’s rare to get so much time to think about painting.
I’m able to do things with paint that I simply couldn’t do before, the time spent with just a few colours has been almost as important as the years spent with my collection of hundreds of colours.
What themes do your paintings explore?
Previous work has been about pattern seeking and superstition, In life, literature and In painting. I’ve painted a lot of Skinner Boxes- animal boxes from BF skinner’s famous experiments. I show these boxes alongside some paintings of drapery with suggested figuration.
I like to take things out of images when they should be there and put things In when they shouldn’t be.
Draped fabric appears in many of the paintings in your solo show. Tell us a little more about this.
The draped fabrics started to come into my work as a bit of a joke, I painted a few which looked like a kid’s terrible ghost costume or something but the paintings looked more serious. There was no foot coming from underneath the sheet and the proportions weren’t human so they were just these draped forms, moving without an author.
They were also sort of about the way people approach semi-abstraction when looking at paintings, there’s almost a frustration for the image to be fully explicable.
What’s next for you now as an artist?
I’m making more sketches and I’ll figure out what they are later when I try to paint them. After that I’ll try to show them somewhere.
Where can people go to find out more about your work?
For now my Instagram is the best place @jack_foster_artist
Jack’s solo show “Dresden Paintings” is currently on display at Classroom Gallery, open Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 – 4pm, or viewing by appointment, until the end of April 2018.