Design & Decoration S01 ep8: Robert Foster, Foster Artist, [Sydney]
Interview with Robert Foster
I feel like I am always on the edge and when I see a new object or the way that it has been made or the combination of the two which is usually the way things are , I go, "I had that idea".
When I was younger, I always wanted to be an inventor or a pioneer, an
experimenter, or a scientist and I guess the creative side of that is facilitating
My father was a ceramicist, and an art teacher at high school, so that sort of
helped but I think I drew a lot of my inspiration from things that I had seen
around me. Initially the things that I made were quite indigenous, using
feathers, and leather, beads, silver. My parents were quite interested in
Aboriginal art so there was a huge influence from there.
Ravnor Hansen who was a very prominent Norwegian silversmith he had a
huge influence on me at the school of art in Canberra and he sort of went,
“O.K. lets get away from the hippie stuff and let's concentrate on more
contemporary gold and silver smithing”. I think he thought I needed to get more
rigor with the work.
I've always played with the idea of living in a void and therefore relying on the
void to pull information from. If I really wanted to offer something that was
totally unique and new and important primarily to me and therefore possibly to
be important to the rest of the world I needed to have space or I needed to be
After that I set up a workshop and started making exhibition work and had
quite a few exhibitions around Australia and a couple of small group exhibitions
overseas exhibiting hollow ware which is predominantly teapots and coffee
pots and other vessels similar to that.
KM – Why hollow ware of all things?
Well mainly because that was my training and straight out of Art School that
was what I wanted to do and in a lot of ways it is still central to my creative
KM – How do you see hollow ware?
I guess the vessel for me is.... it is a combination of being something that
holds the essence of an idea or the essence of what ... expression it is like a
storybook and it revolves around the containment of something. And that could
be, in a spiritual sense represent the body, a vessel that is always being linked
to human body of the human spirit. For me I suppose the vessel has
represented how perhaps I felt about myself or things that I have felt and how I
can represent that within a vessel.
A lot of earlier work was about how I could pierce the object, or how the object
could have been effected by an outside force, and the interaction and the play
that representing force and energy and how that expresses a feeling or an
The production work, I suppose, is about being able to support one off
exploration and being able to support a studio or a workshop for all sorts of
development of new things. It is also about learning and being able to access
KM – How do you work today?
There is a variety of ways that I work. Sometimes I might just actually start
with a pure concept of production, a process that I want to experiment with,
like well it could be a particular pressing process and then work backwards
from that point and go what type of object, how can it look, what can I offer in
that way and then the other way I might work is purely work with the actual
physical object so hone an actual object down and this is ultimately what I
want, I really don't want to compromise how it looks and then work towards
finding a process to make it by. The explosive form vase is an example of that.
I made the object by hand and often times I do prototype objects by hand. The
advantage that I have as a craftsperson is that very quickly I can prototype an
object that fully functions, looks like exactly and behaves like what could be the
finished production piece. I can do that in a very short period of time and I can
make variations of that object quite easily.
I was always a very competitive student right from the onset. I remember my
second year, we were trained to basically work in precious metals and by that
stage, I realised that I just didn't want to do that. It is part of my nature to go
against the grain and part of the reason I started to work in aluminium for
example instead of working in silver, I couldn't see any sense in working with
I don't know where my journey is taking me in a sense. A lot of times when I
actually come up with an object, and sometimes they are objects that are quite
profound, they are quite strong objects, it is like I sort of discover them. Or I
might discover them through the process of making if you know what I mean.
Sitting there bashing a piece of metal and this object evolves, I discover it. It is
like finding this object that is hidden there and that really excites me and it
doesn't concern me that I don't really know where I am going - I mean there
are lots of dreams and lots of things that I project. It can be a technology thing
where I try a new process or a new way of doing something and suddenly I pull
it out of the thing and I just go "that is it" that is doing something, that is doing
something that 's not been done before, or at least I have not done before and
just being able to suddenly see the potential where they can take an actual
I find with a lot of my things, particularly with the one off type things that I
make the exhibition things that I make, it is on that sort of boundary where
they haven't seen it before it is so unusual, it is so different, they like it they
want to have it but they can't bring themselves to actually buy it. It is kind of
like irony of people liking it but not being sure about it and I guess that is the
boundary I work between. I work between the very esoteric and the very
perhaps impossible to actually manufacture hand made object, and something
that is manufacturable. One thing that I do actually get a lot of pleasure out of
these days is actually coming up with an object, which works within the market,
people accept, that is also possible to make with really relatively inexpensive
tooling and also is not problematic in production.
With the handbag the idea was to have it, you know, to have a handbag that
looked like it had holes in it so there was the irony that things were going to fall
out of it. Filled this holey bag with plastic and I chose to blow moulded the
plastic into the frame of the aluminium. That was a moment in which I went,
well that has got lots of potential, in how the bag could hold light in a sense, so
that light actually went through it. You could also see the objects in the bag but
you couldn't get to them because it had this boundary between them, so all of
those parameters kind of hit you at once. It was actually stolen from an
exhibition I had.
KM – You’re kidding.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Robert Foster, Foster Artist, Sydney