STUDIO VISIT – ARIEL FOSTER
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Brasilia, Brazil, the capital and planned city in the middle of the country. My family in Brazil is originally from Goias, a semi dry savanna that was there before the city was built. The land in Goias is rich with trails, rivers, canyons and waterfalls. Feeling very connected to this land – nature has a big influence on my work as well as the feeling of wanting to connect to my roots to the land and it’s indigenous culture and customs. I feel like thats what my work is rooted in – how people connect with nature. I do feel at home when there are plants around or I’m outside walking in the woods. I moved to Maryland in 1996 and have been here ever since. First in Bethesda then to Gaithersburg, which are two opposite places from each other. I’m glad I moved to Gaithersburg. I first moved to Bethesda and it was nice to be close to DC, but the upbringing was very different. Upper-middle class, white.
In Gaithersburg, I felt that I was able to find my own identity as everyone else’s because there were people from all over the world. My high school represented over 100 different countries. It was very normal and healthy, and I got to meet people from everywhere. So I wasn’t just “the Brazilian” or had this “otherness,” we all had this “otherness.” In Bethesda, I feel like I would have had to go through an erasure of my Brasilian side. But my sister, who is ten years older than me, grew up in Bethesda so she had that experience, so we did differ in our upbringing in many ways but in the end she turned out great (haha) but is now living back in Brazil.
How long have you been in this studio and in Baltimore?
Since 2012 I’ve been in Baltimore. I moved to Goucher for college then graduated as an Art major with a concentration in Arts Administration and took a lot of English classes. For me, I didn’t really care about grades, I just took classes in areas where I needed improvement. I wasn’t very good at writing, so I took a lot of writing classes. I took some Cs in those classes–I could have taken all Art classes and gotten a perfect GPA, but who cares about GPA? I’m here to learn, not worry about this number on a paper. So anyway, I’ve been in this studio for about two years and I think I’ll sign another lease in 2020.
In the most simple terms, how would you describe your work or what would you say it’s about?
I usually tell people what materials I’m using and I don’t really talk about the concept. I usually say I make tapestries and digital images and painting–I like to dabble in everything else. Mixed media.
I want to keep exploring new mediums throughout my lifetime. The concept of the work is about how we as humans connect with nature and nature can be animals, elements, plants…so that is the grounding point. In the linoleum, the carvings that are more narrative depict people working the land and many animals. My linoleum work started off as creating patterns for textiles, so lots of abstraction based on plant cells, op art, city maps and organic shapes. With the narrative work, I have a piece called Mezcaleros which are people who grow agave and process it into Mezcal. I have another piece that’s called Coffee Workers and that one depicts farmers picking the coffee berries and depulping them with a simple mechanism. Those are very traditional, labor intensive ways of working. I can see myself in another life doing that, or living in a place where I’m growing plants and creating different uses for them.
I think there’s more meaning in that with how we are interacting with nature now. I enjoy living with plants and going on trail walks and swimming in rivers or oceans whenever I get a chance. I like to use the power in nature for medicinal purposes and healing and as a source of wisdom. Also my work reflects my travels to my recent trips to Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica and Peru.
Over this past three years, I was able to go to the desert for the first time in Mexico, experience the Amazon Rainforest in Peru both in the past year, walk through the volcanic lands of Costa Rica and live on an island in the south of Brazil. Nature is the endless inspiration. Also I am in the middle of publishing a book that includes my illustrations and it’s about the animal kingdom and its perspective. Creating illustrations for this book as allowed me to study all kinds of animals from bats to wildebeests and bushmaster snakes.
When time is short or you’re just not feeling it, how do you handle or adapt to fitting in studio time?
It’s definitely in waves for me. Sometimes I’m here every day. Or, I can go a whole month and just go to my studio three times–that’s because I’m busy working elsewhere or my creativity is elsewhere, like on the computer or I’m running events. Just not in the studio. It also depends on what my goals are and what I’m working towards. I co-run The Parlour in Baltimore, so whenever that’s happening that’s where my attention splits. I find the best motivator to get me into the studio is if I have a show. If I have a deadline and I have to have a cohesive show–it just gives me another canvas. The canvas as the whole gallery space and how I’m going to use it. So that’s a great drive. I can work on my own without it, but I’m just slower and take my time. You can get a little lost without a show because the show gives you that healthy pressure to wrap things up. But currently, I’m happy I’ve been spending a lot of time here and feel like I’ve gotten over whatever mental blocks there were because now I’m in a good working stream of creativity.
For your next show you created work at Pigment Sauvage here in Baltimore – how was that process?
The space is for artists to present works that are in progress, or experiment with new ideas – like the space between our studio and the art gallery. I’m going to be installing the work in the space and just responding to it. I have ideas, but I think once I’m there I’ll figure it out. The paintings are my main new discoveries. It’s a recent practice of mine so I’m very excited to show these pieces that originated from my printmaking practice.
They started off as little side works I would do when I wasn’t in the mood to create through printmaking. I’m really falling in love with the painting process. Its immediate, where I can brush my marks and ideas out quickly and build and build over the surface and over time. They are like practices in making in the subconscious state where I just begin to paint without any expectations or initial concepts and I see where the works take me, eventually leading me to an idea and going from there. I’ve incorporated some printed scraps and dried plants in the plants that tell a lil bit of my story and process.
Then there is my tapestries which will hang and drape in the same space as the paintings. The tapestries are fun because I am returning to dying and printing in color whereas in the past few years my work has been mainly in black and white. I also dance over my prints to create them so that process is always fun. I use the pressure of my dancing feet with impress the carved linoleum blocks onto the fabric.
Is there anything new emerging in your work as far as techniques or materials?
I’m having a lot of fun making these paintings because it’s a subconscious thing where I’m just starting to paint and shapes will start looking like something else and I will add and go from there. I mix that in with scraps from my prints and I’m having a lot of fun mixing dried plants into the oil to give it some texture. I’m putting dried flowers directly onto the surface and including beads–just exploring materials has been fun and seeing what I like and where it’s going to take me.
I’m dyeing now and I don’t know why I haven’t picked it back up sooner.
I got into a weird place with my work when I was just making it for shows. I was thinking like I had to make it and make it good because people were going to see it. I just want to create, be spontaneous, show my rhythm, and see what happens.
I do want to keep exploring where materials can take me. Recently, I have been saving organic matter to make natural dyes. So i’m really excited to experiment with those and use them to dye my fabrics for tapestries.
You mentioned the Parlour, the space you and your partner run. Can you talk about that because there’s that pressure as an artist to always be in the studio? (IG: @theparlour_)
It’s officially been open since May 2019. It’s a public artist-run space where we put on art shows, performances, music events, private dinners and ceremonies. The building is in a historic part of Baltimore in Mt. Vernon and has been there since the central monument, close to 200 years old. It has three tall mirrors with carved wood and painted gold T frames. So the artwork is given an interesting context in the space and works are framed nicely in the setting. I most enjoy bringing people together and having this platform for artists that we admire and we want to see more of their work in Baltimore. I also enjoy the aspect of bringing people together and creating a space for connections to happen. It’s so energizing and it’s so comfortable because the space is domestic so it feels warm and cozy. I think that’s pretty unique and I really enjoy that.
Do you have anything else coming up that you want to promote?
I’ll have my show up at Pigment Savage from January 17th to February 8th in Bolton Hill, Baltimore. With gallery hours Monday-Friday from 1-5pm. In March I’m super excited to have the book printed and ready to distribute. It’s a natural fantasy book written by my father that takes place in Latin American and the Sahara Desert. It follows a man who becomes a semi-god of Queztalcoatl, half bird half snake man and uses his abilities to speak with animals and fly to help save them from being killed and better understood. I made full page linocut illustrations that highlight a scene or character. So I will be selling the book and prints of illustrations very soon!