Kaikoura-based sculptor Ben Foster draws upon the physical landscape of home with his static, stylised figurative works mirroring the dramatic forms of the mountains which are his backdrop. Similarly, his kinetic abstract sculptures echo the restless coastal waters and winds which swiftly reshape the stony shores. His artistic practice serves as a vehicle through which he explores human interaction with the land and the animals with which we share our lives and spaces.
The effects of everyday phenomena provide Foster with inspiration. He pays homage in works which both evoke and rely upon their surroundings. The 2013 Ribbon works, for example, mimic and constantly alter with the transient effects of light on the stainless steel bodywork. Essentially, these reflective, sculptural evocations of movement engage in a dialogue with their environment, ensuring their relevance within that ever-changing setting.
Foster’s sculptural practice is not reductive – his abstractions are neither forced nor spare. Rather, his pared back sculptural forms harness the essence of the geographical features which inspired them, echoing their physical properties and environmental qualities, such as the bite of an easterly wind, or the rolling sweep of a breaking wave. Continuum (2013) is a prime example; it’s a visually engaging work which, in its soothing fluidity, is simultaneously uplifting and restful.
In dispensing with superfluous detail Foster’s works are imbued with an honesty which belies the industrial processes through which they are realised. And while Foster’s works emulate natural forms, clearly the artist revels in the mechanical engineering which facilitates their creation. Indeed, the juxtaposition of organic versus manmade, appears to drive this artist’s practice as he endeavours to achieve a harmonious fusion of the two diametrically opposed forces.
In polished or enamel-coated aluminium or stainless steel, Foster’s organically-inspired forms are dynamic, tactile and elegant. Others exude light heartedness and humour. Golden Boy (2012) is the family Labrador incongruously realised in bold geometric forms. Foster has captured, in cool metal, the postural adoration of humankind’s most loyal companion. Golden Boy is simultaneously endearing and daringly contemporary.
So too is Foster’s The White Horse (2013). Here bucolic and industrial collide to impressive effect. These works align him with Tuffery and Parekowhai both of whom have employed engineered materials and recontextualised familiar animals to address their environmental and social concerns. The White Horse is both proud and gentle. Foster’s geometrical rendering is suggestive of the animal’s inherent connection to, and place within, the natural environment. Characteristically, it relies on the interplay of light and shadow and while the subject matter is ostensibly pastoral, the result is dramatic with the sculpture’s silhouette as commanding as the mountainous landscape it resembles.
Foster’s works are testament to his technical expertise and craftsmanship. In his sculptural treatment of figurative and abstract forms, the artist points to the interconnectedness of all living things. His sculptures reference and respond to the physical landscape hinting at mutual dependencies and inviting respectful contemplation.
Essay by Melissa Reimer
Education: Bachelor of Visual Arts, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology
Awards/Distinctions: Barbara Wood Memorial Foundation Trust Scholarship (2006); The Wallace Art Awards – Finalist (2005); Toss Woollaston Art Scholarship (2005); Christchurch Polytechnic - Academic Achievement Award (2004)
Public Exhibitions: NZ Sculpture OnShore, Auckland (2012, 2010); Shapeshifter, Lower Hutt, Wellington (2012); Ellerslie International Flower Show, Hagley Park, Christchurch (2010); Preview(Touring Exhibition), Various venues including Centre of Contemporary Art and Christchurch, Temple Gallery, Dunedin (2009); Artist in Focus, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, Nelson (2009); The Wallace Art Awards Travelling Exhibition, Wallace Trust Gallery, Auckland; Pataka Museum of Arts and Cultures, Wellington; Centre of Contemporary Art, Christchurch (2006)
Articles: ‘Fresh work shows off young talent’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Mar 2013; ‘Kinetic Sculptor’ by Joanne Taylor, Latitude Magazine, Issue 19 Oct/Nov, 2011, pg 84-88;‘Celebrating a Simple Existence’ by Emma Bailey, The Timaru Herald, Mar, 2010; ‘Fresh Blood’ by Virginia Were, Art News New Zealand, Spring 2006, pg 82; ‘Sculptor Artist in Focus’, The Nelson Mail, May, 2006