Thursday, March 23, 2000
It is a deceptively fine line that every artist walks in search of creative inspiration. Like a high wire circus performer, the artist stands perched precariously between transcendence and oblivion, struggling to reconcile the dynamic tension between intuition and ideology, craft and creativity, passion and madness.
For artist Norman Foster, those dualities find expression in a broad array of techniques and subject matter, ranging from his decidedly modern, abstract sculptures to his more traditional, but singularly evocative landscape paintings.
"I suppose I must be a little schizophrenic to switch between contemporary and traditional work," says Foster, who is showing a small but superb selection of his works, curated by Brita Heizmann at public radio station KAZU''s community room.
"I think the creative urge comes from inside in a subconscious way," adds Foster. "I can switch back and forth. It''s all kind of automatic, and if it isn''t, you erase it and do it another day. If you''re hung-up and conscious of what you''re doing, you won''t come up with anything exciting or original."
As a young boy growing up in Texas, Foster knew with certainty that art would be his calling. Perhaps it was the absence of specific artistic influences, or the wide-openness of the Texas landscape, but whatever the reason, Foster''s peripatetic eye sought a broad range of sources for inspiration and ended up embracing a wide range of expressive techniques.
He studied art in New York in the late ''40s, a seminal period in which American artists and abstract expressionism were emerging as the focal point of the post-war art world.
"That whole New York School was pretty wild, but I ran from that scene," recalls Foster, who personally knew many of the period''s leading artists. "It wasn''t an inspiration for me to get into that particular syndrome, and most of the artists had tragic endings. That was why I went to Mexico."
After a stint at Mexico City College, where he drew inspiration from Mexico''s renowned muralists and master painters, Foster put his art career on hold and became an interior designer in order to support his family. Now retired, he does art full-time, working from his loft studio in Sand City.
Among his works currently displayed at KAZU, Foster''s compelling sculptures are the clear standouts, being quintessential expressions of abstract art in their use of found objects, the Dadaist juxtaposition of mechanistic and organic motifs, the interplay of textures, colors and forms, and the recurring themes of chaos, penetration and transmutation of matter.
While less aesthetically intriguing than his sculptures, Foster''s paintings of California grasslands, part of an ongoing project, are particularly lovely and evocative in their somber, elegiac rendering of light, color and atmosphere. His technique of applying washes of paint to the prepared canvas and then removing the paint using different brushes and various styli adds a wonderful textural quality to the paintings with the blades of grass seeming to jump from the flat, two-dimensionality of the canvas surface.
"I''ve been told my landscapes have an abstract design, but that''s not conscious," explains Foster. "What I''ve attempted to do is get the atmosphere, the climate, the winds and fogs, and endless supply of inspiration that comes from looking at the landscape in California."
Ever the iconoclast, Foster is somewhat dismissive of the commercialism and sensationalism of the art world as it is configured today. Although he shows some of his work locally at Homescapes in Carmel and Artisan''s Hand in Carmel Valley, Foster has generally steered clear of the local art scene.
"Some art is inexcusable and I don''t understand a lot of what is going on in the world of art now," says Foster. "Although I''m ancient I''m not a fogey. It''s great to experiment in art, but if you want to use feces, dung or cat hair you have to know how to handle it," he adds in reference to last fall''s "Sensation" art exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.
An artist''s training should begin early in life, Foster believes; "It''s in that first year that you begin to understand what the creative life is, and then decide which way you''re going with your particular talent. Even though I have been an art teacher I am very pessimistic about art training. I''ve seen young people totally ruined by too much training and they get hung up on the rules.
"Original art never goes by the rules. It never has."
Paintings and sculptures by Norman Foster are on display through April at the Catherine L. and Robert O. McMahan Foundation Community Room at KAZU, 167 Central Ave., Pacific Grove. 375-7275.