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Art as an Adventure

Tony Foster Blurs the Lines Between Creative Work and Play

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“Generally, I simply draw the colour areas and have my own shorthand for the colour to be applied (PG, BU, AC over YO for example: Paynes Grey, Burnt Umber, Alazerian Crimson over an undercoating of Yellow Ochre) or “sick”—an eau de Nile Green with a touch of Chrome Yellow.

In the end, it’s all about aesthetics—what looks right when applied. My eye tells me immediately if, when a colour is applied, it strikes a false note, so I may completely ignore my notes when I get back to the studio, and use my memory and judgment instead.”
The work then is hauled back to Tywardorth, the small village in Cornwall where he and his wife, Ann (also an artist), reside. There, tucked up against the fierce winters that visit that wild coast, he completes each painting.

Once I ask him, with his awards and acclaim, if he was considered famous in his hometown.

Foster says his mates at the local pub in Tywardorth (once described by Daniel Defoe as “a village of little note”) are mostly unaware of the sometimes exhausting and dangerous nature of his work. Or the esteem in which he is held by the larger world. And, after a prolonged absence, they might chide him about “the missus” keeping him away from his pint. Never mind that he may have just returned from an expedition to the Amazon, freezing in Greenland, baking in the Grand Canyon or suffering altitude sickness near Everest, all in the pursuit of his art. A fact he is unlikely to enlighten them with.

There is not enough room here to compile the list of Tony Foster’s accomplishments, adventures, travels, and works of art. In keeping with the British (and Foster’s) penchant for understatement, just the list of his catalog titles and major journeys from 1982 to the present may testify to the passion and dedication he brings to his work, and to the world:

“Travels without a donkey in the Cevennes—in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson”; “Thoreau’s Country—walks and canoe journeys through New England, U.S.A.”; “John Muir’s High Sierra-—a 250-mile walk in the Sierra Nevada, U.S.A.”; “Exploring the Grand Canyon—400 miles walking the Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A”; Rainforest Diaries—watercolours from Costa Rica”; “Arid Lands-—watercolour diaries from journeys across deserts”; “Ice and Fire—watercolour diaries of volcano journeys”; “After Lewis and Clark—explorer artists and the American West”; “The Whole Salmon”;“Watermarks—watercolour diaries from swamps to icebergs”.

Foster’s current project (his most ambitious yet) is titled “Searching for a Bigger Subject.” With it, the artist brings huge (6’x6’) iconic works painted on site of several sides of Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon from both rims. The next major exhibition for those works is scheduled for October of 2008 at galleries in San Francisco and New York, with a show in Sun Valley being negotiated. At the same time, Foster’s large-format, four-color book, Painting at the Edge of the World, will be available.

The list above and the work before him are almost as exhausting as the journeys, presenting to us an extraordinary man leading an extraordinary life.

So we come back around to truth! And whether or not we should believe Mr. Foster when he denies the importance of his reputation as adventurer versus that of artist. Knowing Foster, first as a comrade of the trek, and now as an artist and writer, I feel qualified to say his real truth is in his work, his humanity, and his heart. The rest being moot because, fortunately for him (and for us), when the artist departs, be it for the Arctic or the Amazon, he will be unable to leave the adventurer at home.


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