Working from his purpose-built studio, Foster spends his time just a short journey from the jagged shore of the Kaikoura peninsula where whales and other marine life occupy the coastal waters of the Pacific. To the other side his studio is overlooked by the snow-tipped peaks of the seaward Kaikoura Ranges. This arresting site is a potent force in Foster’s work, asserting itself formally in his practice through the geometric lines that trace the craggy landscape.
Foster’s interpretation of place leads him to focus on creatures that are plucked straight from his local ecology. His works have cited both indigenous species (Karearea, 2016 and Shadow, 2016) and domestic (Good Boy, 2017). However, the adroit industrial production of these works ensures that they can equally be read as architectural entities.
Through his consideration of anatomy and form Foster delineates essential features while obscuring detail, allowing angular approximations to stand in for the nuances of curves and organic shape. His works are convincing; embodying their animality while avoiding sentimentality. Polygon structures create unfamiliar surfaces, assuring the work retains its sculptural focus and stripping the works of any individual monumentality. Foster addresses fundamental characteristics, movement, and tension; the flip of a tail or the grasp of a claw is described through simple geometry. He exploits the nature of perception, which allows us to fill in the blanks, and to see the whole from suggested fragments. Karearea summarises the powerful native falcon to a few dozen surfaces, yet we instinctively understand and recognise the bird’s weight and poise.
Foster’s inherent regionalism gives his work strong ties to the landscape but he also seeks to address the temporal relationships created within the context of an exhibition format. In his 2016 exhibition Spectrum, Foster struck a dialogue between predator and prey, with The White Deer alongside Karearea, contrasting light and dark finishes to further distinguish the works. The sculptures obstinately occupy space; their facets create dynamic light-dependent surfaces with shifting shadows that augment the experience of our surroundings.
Recent works include Foster’s first investigations of the human form. Figure 88 (2016) is an anthropomorphic figure reduced to its bare essentials, permitting us to instantly project onto the work beyond the anecdotal. The figure stands with feet astride, weight casually balanced and hands in “pockets”; we are presented with an impression of relaxed detachment that may conceal more complex emotions beneath the mask-like surfaces. Although smaller than human scale - and elevated to full height on its plinth - the work imposes authority over the viewer. The title, taken from the number of facets that makes up the work, reinforces Foster’s focus on aesthetics, balance and symmetry.
Employing immaculate construction techniques, Foster’s works have no material identity – aluminum and lacquer paint form a completely anonymous surface. This high level of finish comes from the strong engineering focus of Foster’s practice, which has previously seen him take inspiration from industrial components; resulting in sleek abstract sculpture. In his more recent work, the linear planes suggest both the design of digital CAD models and the art of origami; these works could be molded from resin or even folded from paper.
Ben Foster toys with our perception of his artfully constructed archetypal forms; we evoke meaning onto the sparest of surfaces. Through slick design and industrial production his sculptures are at once ambivalent and stark, yet take on a universal appeal.