Reflection with Susan J. Foster


Oil paintings by Susan J. Foster
Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast
December 2019—February 2020

Susan was interviewed by Mary Louise O’Connell

Of necessity, much of our life in Florida happens inside, out of the heat and sun. Susan Foster’s paintings take the viewer into that interior which is filled with stories of objects and settings. Foster’s paintings are beautiful reflections of an interior life. Having just watched Susan Foster create a painting that seemingly fell from her brush, I wanted to capture some of her reflections about painting, the creative process and interior life of the painter. This particular painting—The Blue Bowl--is a just one of her works that evokes the meditative, calm atmosphere of a single object.

Reflection is the name of your show. That term has multiple meanings. How you do relate it to your work?

 I often own an object for months before I paint it. I spend a lot of time reflecting about what I want to say about an object before I paint it. For example, that blue bowl in the painting is something I’ve been looking at for a couple of years. It’s very handmade looking; it has both texture and an imperfect shape. I picked it up recently and I could tell immediately what the painting should look like. I went looking for that particular cloth napkin that was in a stack of material. Until I picked up the bowl, I didn’t think of putting it together with the cloth, but once I did, the painting was there for me. Our subconscious is always working on that creative level. It’s like a crossword clue that you can’t figure out and you leave. Suddenly, the next time you look at it, the answer to the clue comes to you in a flash.

My love of painting metal objects is another current that runs through my work. Metal objects—especially silver ones--reflect the light so beautifully. Because silver objects are made with layers of various components like silver, tin and lead, they are often evocative of an earlier sensibility. I find reflections are the heart of my paintings. I often use glass objects, different textures of cloth and gorgeous, fragile flowers to express different aspects of reflection of light on them.

 Do you think that your paintings evoke a specific time or place?

 I hope for a certain warmth and an emotional response to the painting. I want people to have a sense of recognition of a mood, a place or object, without being reminiscent or especially historical. My paintings should ask viewers to have an emotional recognition outside of the scene they are looking at. An artist is always hoping for an intellectual engagement that allows the viewer to spend some time exploring an emotional connection with the work.

 How is that you work best?

Reflective, contemplative solitude is my preferred method, and that’s typical of many artists because you spend long days alone in the studio. While I and many artist friends are comfortable with others around them while painting, our best work often comes from that time when we are alone. The act of painting is so engaging for the artist that it’s hard to tear away to attend to routine chores like feeding the dog. You have to have a degree of comfort with your own thoughts to be an artist—that sense of being alone in the studio can’t be something that frightens you. I love painting with my friends, but I also love the time I spend in the studio by myself.

 How do you select objects for your paintings?

I tend to look for things that are either made to be useful or that are handmade. I look for objects that not strictly utilitarian but also not solely decorative, which I think are someone else’s idea of what we should think of as beautiful. I love to find handmade things, especially older items, because I have a sense of another artist at work who made a utilitarian object into something beautiful.

 Are you drawn to certain settings?

I tend to like paintings that are scenes that you feel like you might discover, such as a breakfast table or tea-time. Humans are made for stories, and we bring a sense of story to whatever we are engaging with, be that a poem, a novel or a painting. I also like formal studio set ups, but I try to make table-top scenes as natural as possible. 

What is your favorite format for a painting?

 I have always been drawn to squares, and I have used that format to paint very large square paintings. I love the square because it is more like a window than other rectangles, which have intimations of photography. Because of that, squares feel less like something that you have seen or come across, and more like something the artist has created. I also think that, unfortunately, it’s more difficult to hang squares, since they are harder to balance with other formats in a space.

 What colors appeal to you for paintings?

 I use a very traditional palette of colors, including warms and cools of primary colors, a dark earth tone, white and a couple of “convenience” colors, which are some that can be used without a great deal of guess work. I think I own every rose, pink and red paint color on the market, since I paint so many varieties of flowers. The manufacturers of paints today do an amazing job of making colors that the artist can’t always mix.

Susan J. Foster, an internationally known award-winning artist, was born in Warren, Ohio. She studied at OCA in Toronto, Ontario and with friends she considers to be some of the finest teachers in the world. Susan has exhibited extensively, including solo shows in Charleston, S.C. and Sarasota, FL. She was a finalist in the world-wide competition "Blossom 2, Art of the Flower" and has, among other prizes, won the Bowles Award for Portraiture. 

Formerly an instructor at Ringling College of Art in the CCSP program, Susan now teaches Still Life painting at the Southern Atelier in Sarasota, Florida, where she and her husband Norm and their Cavalier, Posy, currently reside.

 RSVP for our artist's reception on December 11.