Entertainment, Reviews

“I Can’t Not Paint”

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STANNARD – Richard Foster paints because he can’t not paint, he says. He creates because he has to create.

Foster enjoys the entire creative process, from preparing the substrate, to building up texture beneath the pastels that are his preferred medium in recent years. That, and even the woodworking involved with framing his finished pieces, all contribute to his enjoyment of what he is doing.

photo by Richard Foster Richard Foster, “Barred Owl,” pastel painting on sanded paper. A barred owl was on top of the bird feeder at his Stannard home one morning hunting rodents, then flew into a tree long enough to be photographed, thus becoming the inspiration for this piece.

Born in southern California, his mother, also an artist, gave him a box of pastels when he was 11 or 12. His father worked with the border patrol and the family moved to Swanton, which brought him to Vermont. It’s there that he really started to paint and create art.

While his mother encouraged him through his teen years, “My art became something I needed to get out of myself,” he says, adding, “I would just have to stop and create something.”

Foster’s work as an impressionist is about giving the viewer a sense of the feeling being in a place might give one, or getting the look of the eyes right in paintings he does to memorialize pets.

Looking for the first time at a painting he calls “Old Farm Road,” my eye was immediately drawn down the road into a lighter area where the road opens into a bluer unknown space. Only a moment later the yellow foreground drew my eye, creating a pleasant space to be in, right where I was in that moment as a viewer. After another few moments the rest of the composition came into my consciousness, revealing textures in the bark of the trees and the foliage.

I happen to know exactly the spot Foster was standing when his inspiration for that painting came to him and the shadows tell me it’s roughly mid-afternoon (I didn’t ask when we spoke, so I hope I’m right.) What I can say for certain is that his painting is not of exactly what’s there, but it is of exactly what one feels when they are there on that late spring or early summer afternoon.

photo by Richard Foster Richard Foster, “Old Farm Road,” pastel painting on sanded paper. Inspired by a side road in East Hardwick near the monument after which Hazen Monument Farm is named.

Foster’s creative process includes details an observer will never likely see, from selecting the paper he will use, to stretching it over a frame, or choosing birch plywood to paint on. From there he might build up textures with an acrylic medium or sand the paper to get the right tooth for the pastels he’ll be using. He’ll break pastels into various sized pieces, as another artist might select a brush, which explains his use of the word “paint” for a medium many of us might call drawing.

A big part of Foster’s art is about “wanting to make people happy,” he says. He remembers a period in his youth when Margaret Keane’s big-eyed children were popular. Someone asked if he could paint something similar. He said, “yes,” and soon his big-eyed-child paintings were on many walls in the neighborhood, though he reports not recalling that he was paid for any of them.

That lack of a financial motive continues to this day. He only sells a few paintings a year. It’s more important for people to see his work and for him to know it has value to them, he commented, adding, “marketing and sales are unimportant to me.” It’s unlikely his sales ever pay for his supplies, he said, carrying that through to the extreme, but emphasizing his art has to come out.

Foster’s art clearly isn’t about making a living, though one has the sense in talking with him that a living without his art wouldn’t be much of a living for him, financially or otherwise.

Two of Richard Foster’s pastel paintings are at the Caspian Arts Gallery at the Greensboro Grange, weekends from July 1 to August 13 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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