When I was first introduced to Foster-m he was working temporarily in a very badly lit studio. He switched on a lamp and angled it so that his paintings could be seen a little more clearly but this wasn't really necessary as the canvasses spoke for themselves. They were incredible; huge meshes of coloured lines, drips and submerged human forms which incorporated symbols, slogans, elements of collage and anatomical diagrams. The copious layers of colour were exceptionally vivid, he explained that he uses any kind of paint he can get his hands on from oils and acrylics to household gloss. In some of his paintings, he also utilises items he finds in skips outside his studio which is located in Sheffield's old industrial quarter; wood, tiles and various pieces of discarded factory waste.
Everything is used to it's fullest effect in his work, from the source materials to the vibrant colours, densely layered paint textures, compositional structure and various application techniques. He spoke about his work in terms of an expression of the struggles he experienced in his early life growing up in Sheffield's notorious Kelvin flats complex - a failed social experiment in high-rise living which was built in the 1960s and is now, thankfully demolished. Foster also talked passionately about his love of music, telling me that he was currently listening (amongst others) to the Lost Tapes box set by Can, various Demdike stare albums and a variety of post punk, cold wave and minimal techno releases.
He told me how he had spent his formative years saving up what money he could to buy records from a variety of Sheffield's tiny specialist shops, most of which are now long gone. We spoke of a shared interest in the work of early pioneers in electronic and experimental music as well as countless forgotten Sheffield post punk bands and a lifetime spent tracking down rare records, not for the sense of élitism attached to their ownership or ridiculous resale values but for the music they contained. Music it seems plays as much a part in the life of Foster-m as his painting.
After further conversation, I discovered that he was an active participant in the local Sheffield music scene from the 1980s onwards and was instrumental in setting up the Audiolaceration label in 2000 which specialises in limited releases covering all forms of experimental music. The website is worth a visit as there are still some CD releases available. He was also involved in the production of a record called Saint Agnes Fountain which purports to be a lost session from the 1970s by Japanese music student Masayo Asahara. It's an incredible piece of work which features manipulated organ drones, free jazz outbursts and Krautrock/prog sensibilities. A press review at it's release in 2004 likened it to the sound of Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Mike Ratledge and the Art Ensemble of Chicago jamming with Faust in 1973. The album is still available on CD over at the Discus website and is highly recommended.
Foster-m is also a bass player and turntablist amongst other things and was recently recorded using contact microphones applied to the canvas whilst painting. The resulting sounds were treated, edited together and eventually pressed onto vinyl. He is a restless, inveterate explorer and experimenter in both art and sound.
At the end of our meeting, I stood looking at one of the large canvasses he was currently working on and noticed that he had written something across the bar which held a tarpaulin to the wall behind it. The words read as follows;
"I really don't give a fuck what you see in my painting… I'm more interested in what you hear!"
This is, in my mind at least, one of the most honest statements made by an artist in relation to their work, irrespective of discipline.
An exhibition of new paintings by Foster-m called Exposed Interiors Vs. Opaque Occupants will open on Friday the 10th of August at the Snig Hill Gallery in Sheffield.