Painter

Interview: GRANT FOSTER

I first encountered Grant Foster's work in 2008, in the John Moores 25 painting prize exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. I was happily haunted by the gnarly, tragi-comic, skeletal, uniformed, character depicted in his painting Hero Worship (2007). I was especially delighted that Grant looked and sounded exactly like the artist that was meant to paint it.

A couple of years later painter Eleanor Moreton recommended Grant for a group show I curated with artist Matthew Houlding Memory of a Hope, at my gallery in Liverpool. Grant rocked up with a couple of paintings under his arm, including Relic (2008), another spook with eyes made from found coils of braided hair, a gouged hollow for a nose and a Joker-esque red grin. The other comparatively delicate painting, carved out of mustard yellow beeswax, of a melancholic muse Beauty is Not Compassionate Towards You reflected his thirst for knowledge of what painting can do and his refusal to back himself into a corner.

Grant is an intensely bright, political, considerate, and playful artist, unrelenting in his determination to reveal the complex web of systems, images, language, and hypocrisy that shapes us and that rains down upon us daily. He makes viewers really work for it. Lurching from fine, barely-there delicate colourful wisps and washes, to chewy, densely whipped knots of oily bleakness, he pushes and pulls at memory, and the limitations of painting to test the blurring of coercion, power, impotency, and submission.

Grant Foster (b.1982, Worthing), is a London based artist who completed an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2012. Foster’s recent selected exhibitions include: I’m Not Being Funny, Lychee One, London, 2019; Trade Gallery, Nottingham, 2018; Ground, Figure, Sky, Tintype Gallery, London, 2017; Popular Insignia, Galleria Acappella, Naples, 2016, Salad Days, Ana Cristea Gallery, New York, 2015; Holy Island, Chandelier Projects, London (2014); Bloomberg New Contemporaries, Spike Island and ICA; (2013-14). In 2019 he was the Randall Chair at Alfred University New York, 2019; Fellow in Contemporary Art with The British School at Rome, 2019; and a Prize-winner in John Moores 25, 2008.

I'm Not Being Funny, installation view, Lychee One Gallery, London, 2019

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

My partner works as a doctor in a hospital, so our experience has been a little different perhaps. Between the reality of her experience and the situation as its unfolded publicly, the small things in my daily life took on new meanings. I would take extra care making breakfast and found new pleasure in mind-numbing chores. At the height of lock-down it started to feel as if we were communicating with our cats in new ways – which obviously sounds absolutely insane. Yet those small duties went some way to mitigate the white noise from outside.

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

I think artists are good at being able to adapt – it was clear that lockdown was coming in some form or other – so I made preparations to work temporarily from home. Once I was able to focus on making work, I got into a new rhythm of working, which ran alongside all the domestic stuff you have to do.

I’ve been making work on paper, which at the time is very automatic and when I look back at them, they have distinct themes. There’s a motif of a worker that has kept re-appearing over time and now this figure has become more disembodied perhaps. I’ve also been looking at the things that surround me more. We were given a wonderful model of a human-come-pig-head as a wedding present – so he’s been popping into my imagery! Once I was able to return back to the studio, I’ve been painting with what feels like a renewed rigor, perhaps as a consequence of this moment of reflection.

I’ve also started to collaborate with some old friends to make music – we started this before the lockdown but have been able to devote more time and energy to it. This is one the things that the last few months has shown – is that, once you take the vampiric shit out of everyday life, there’s still a decent amount of time in a day.

The Rat King 1576, 2020, Acrylic oil and oil stick on canvas, 182 x 147cm

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

Normally a sense of calm – and a clear head, which is weird as my more recent paintings can appear quite frantic - I’ve got a postcard of Piero’s, Baptism of Christ which I’ve had for a long time now – it’s an astonishing image of stillness that I like to look at.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

I like sweeping my studio floor – I’m not really sure why but I find it terribly calming.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

We have a very binary attitude in the wider world, we think in terms of systems such as cause and effect – and I don’t think that offers us the full picture – art can exist in place between knowing and not knowing. I try to create processes within my work where I am forced to re-assemble my intentions – and I hope there can be opportunities for art to grow within those cracks. 

Youth Serum, 2018, Glue, oil stick and pigment on collaged canvas and Polyester, 95 x 177cm

What do you care about?

I’m not being flippant when I say the future. It’s obviously becoming clear how the shape of things to come is going to be defined by our collective actions over the coming years. We have the potential to travel along a number of wildly varying tangents, each of which are drastically different to where we are now. It’s impossible not to be concerned about this.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

I’m an itchy type of artist – and have changed appearances over the years. For me painting is a balancing act between material exploration and subject – and I’ve allowed myself the opportunity to follow where the material leads the work, seeing how that corresponds with the subject. For me, art is a verb – it’s an act of doing, in this way the act is democratic – and the to do, implies freedom and there’s strength with that.

My last solo exhibition felt like a departure from what I had shown previously. I wanted to bring something raw and direct back into the work – and had become interested in the methodology of collage as a way into this. I’d been making a large number of paper-works at the time, with collage acting as a natural way for me to resolve an image on a smaller scale. I developed an interest in coloured fabrics and pre-staining canvases, thinking I would use these materials instead of mixing paint more conventionally on a palette or in a pot.

I wanted the work to communicate, through the anxiety and indecision of making it if you like, that there is a sense of empathy with that process. The way I was working at the time –with these collaged forms, felt very open ended as there were countless variations of an image to consider. It was this sense of open-endedness that offered me a new set of possibilities which I’m still processing.

Torments of The Worker, 2020, Acrylic, ballpoint pen, correction fluid, pencil, crayon, Letraset and marker-pen on Sotheby’s Merger Paper, 27 x 20cm 

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

I think my biggest problem (there are many to choose from!!) is that I’m naturally inquisitive regarding materials – and as a consequence this may have seduced me into sacrificing the psychological depth that can come about through really pursuing a given material with singularity.

Everyone for Themselves and God Against All, 2016, Crayon, charcoal, pigment and glue on canvas,100 x 70cm

What is your favourite exhibition you have participated in and why?

It was one of the first shows I did in 2006. Some friends and I put on a painting exhibition in the warehouse unit I lived and worked in at the time – we painted the floor grey the night before, printed out fliers, bought the drink in – and invited everyone we knew. There was a real sense of innocence to it that I still value now.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

I am concerned by a tendency that considers ambiguity a weakness or as something that needs combating. I would suggest precisely the opposite, that it is because of this moment we’re in, where nuance has been continually derided by not only our political class but by the information and communication systems we have become accustomed to – that imagery, art, ideas and culture in its broadest sense – this is the realm where nuance and ambiguity must be allowed to endure, in order for us to learn how to move forwards.

I Work for You, You Work for Me, 2016, Glue, paper, pigment on canvas, 195cm x 185cm

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

Writing has always helped me to find a way around problems which aren’t necessarily logical or with a fixed exit. My brain has a tendency to veer toward extremes – and I find writing a decent way to navigate between two poles.


Measure by Measure,
2017, Bleach, charcoal, glue, oil stick and pigment on collaged canvas, 150 x 115cm

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

Generally speaking, I enjoy people coming to the studio – as that’s really where they can see the thinking – and doing, that goes into the work. And it’s where I can gauge how we might get on, by the way they look for a paint free spot to drop their belongings!

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

Naturally there are a few people I gravitate towards where we share a sense of trust.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

There are lots to list! But more recently through the music I’ve been listening to I’ve become interested in the idea of layering images – and how associative flows can affect our perception of the world. The early albums of Cabaret Voltaire did something similar with the repetition of collaged tape-loops. To me, there’s a connection between those auditory analogue experiments and the associative, almost hallucinatory flow of Francis Picabia’s Transparencies paintings. I’m becoming more and more interested in how images layer upon one another and what this can offer – in a similar way perhaps, to how one may connect seemingly incongruous phenomena, such as the patterns on a wall or apparently random noises.

The Beast with Two Backs, 2020, Oil and pastel on panel, 80 x 60cm

How do you make money to support your practice?

Through a bizarre combination of tech-work and luck.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

Money, health, self-worth – being an artist is a joyous game of masochism.

What advice would you give your past self?

Don’t try and please everyone, Grant.

Beauty Boys, 2019, Acrylic and charcoal on collaged paper, 57 x 76cm

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed your thinking?

One of my closest friends put me onto The Weird Studies podcast, which is based around art and philosophy – and it’s the best one I’ve come across so far.

Follow Grant on Instagram @foster_grant or visit his website

Follow his gallery @tintypelondon on Instagram and website Tintype Gallery

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Coming Next...

An interview with Manchester based art collector Connal Orton, who works as an Executive Producer in television, making comedy and drama programmes for children. He previously worked as a theatre director, specialising in first productions of new plays.

Blog-Eleanor

Interview: ELEANOR MORETON

I first met Eleanor Moreton in 2007, when she was Durham Cathedral Artist in Residence.

I knew before we met that I loved and connected with her paintings, but during that first meeting I was also struck by her curiosity, playful sense of humour, delight in the absurd, and her unwavering commitment to challenging the status quo.

I have been lucky enough to have many rewarding discussions since with Eleanor, during studio visits and in making exhibitions together. I relish our conversations, as she peppers them with references to music, philosophy, poetry, European history, and reveals brilliant insights into other artists work. She is one of the most interesting and interested artists I know.

Her work is informed by this wide-ranging research and a passion for developing new skills. When she's not painting, she’s reading, playing or performing on the violin, dancing, meditating, cooking or caring for friends.

Her rich, multifaceted paintings reflect her highly attuned ability to conjure yet simultaneously deconstruct the subject, the surface, the frame; seducing the viewer yet rejecting the possibility of allowing them to soak up the sun for too long. Eleanor reveals the power at play, the beauty and the horror of our questionable relations. She is always unflinchingly honest.

Eleanor Moreton is a painter who lives in London. She studied painting at Exeter College of Art (BA), Chelsea School of Art (MA), and Art History at the University of Central England (MA).

Her most recent solo show was Wodewose, at Arusha Gallery in Edinburgh, 2019. Previous  solo shows include A Cold Wind From The Mountains, Exeter Phoenix, Exeter, 2017; Monro Room, The House of St Barnabas, London, 2016; California Dreaming, Canal, London, 2015; Tales of Love and Darkness, Ceri Hand Gallery, London, 2014; I See the Bones in the River, Ceri Hand Gallery, London, 2012 (reviewed in Art Monthly by Peter Suchin); The Ladies of Shalott, Jack Hanley Gallery, New York, (reviewed in Art in America by Julian Kreimer), 2010; Im Wartezimmer, Ceri Hand Gallery, Liverpool, (reviewed by Jonathan Griffin, Interface, and Robert Clark, The Guardian, 2010) touring to The Terrace Gallery, Harewood House, Leeds, 2010; A Buried Life, Reg Vardy Gallery, Sunderland, (reviewed by Robert Rob Clark, The Guardian, 2008; Eleanor Moreton Paintings, DLI, Durham, 2008.

Key group exhibitions include The Classical, Transition Gallery, London; Sampler, Arcade Fine Arts, London, 2017; Liberties, The Exchange, Penzance, and Collyer Bristow, London, 2016, with Helen Chadwick, Rose English, Hayley Newman and Jo Spence.

Her work can be seen in The Anomie Review of Contemporary British Painting by Matt Price, (Anomie, 2018) and Picturing People by Charlotte Mullins, (Thames and Hudson
, 2015). She has participated in art fairs including Frieze Art Fair, London, Art Rotterdam, NADA Miami, The Armory Show, New York, VOLTA, Basel and Manchester Contemporary.

The Way (entering the meadow of certainty), 2019, Oil on canvas, 170 x 210 cms

What are you doing, reading, watching or listening to now that is helping you to stay positive?

I decided I would try and use the time as a sort of retreat, to pause and reflect on my life. Tending my garden, cycling around Wanstead Flats have kept me cheerful, and nice chats with friends and neighbours.

What are you working on and how has the lockdown affected your ideas, processes and chosen medium?

The real way that Covid19 and lockdown have affected my work is in a sense of compression and intensity. The lack of distraction has reminded me of long periods in my life when I buried myself in my work. Whilst I wouldn't choose to do that now, it does have a calming effect, because making art is one thing you can do, one place you can be, where you can affect change.

The frustrations and complexities of relationships are on hold, which, though sad, has been restful.

I don't know whether this is related to lockdown, but I've being trying out working on unprimed canvas. Perhaps lockdown gave me a container to do that. And maybe there's a sense of distance too, so it feels possible to stand back and assess where things are going in my work.

The Family Wood, 2018, Oil on canvas, 90 x 120 cms

What do you usually have or need in your studio to inspire and motivate you?

I need to be warm and I need a teapot (with tea in it); all my materials around me, a chair, a wall and writing paper.

What systems, rituals and processes do you use to help you get into the creative zone?

I have a mantra that anything goes in my studio. I can work, or I can not work. It is a space of possibility and not of obligation or duty. I do what I feel like doing. It must be pleasurable, if I want to spend time in it and freedom is what gives me pleasure.

What recurring questions do you return to in your work?

What a challenging question! My work is very closely connected to my inner life. So recurring questions are 'Why am I the way I am?', 'Why are they the way they are?', 'Why are things the way they are?'.

I recognise that I am fascinated by what in previous eras would have been called Evil and by those who get pulled into its orbit. Hence paintings about Charles Manson, murderers, Bluebeard, Josef Fritzl. I am interested in sexuality and repression, masculinity, and femininity. Whilst there is a strong psychological component in my work, I don't take one theoretical position. In fact, my work is an attempt to get away from theoretical positions. Painting for me has been about moving the activities of the mind into the body.

The Murderers, 2016, Oil on canvas, 76 x 81 cms

What do you care about?

I was brought up a vegetarian when nobody else was, which was awkward. Children's parties where I was afraid to eat in case I inadvertently ate meat. So I always had this horror of killing animals. I find I am getting more and more upset by the way we try to dominate the natural world.

I care about the position of girls and women in many parts of the world. I would like to see an end to FGM.

What risks have you taken in your work that paid off?

I can't think of any! Perhaps because I don't think there are any real risks in making artwork, unless you make something that falls on someone's head. That is one of the amazing things about art. You can do anything because no one's going to die (well there are a few instances where people have voluntarily made that their area of investigation). And I can't really think of anything I have done which I could say paid off either.

Hole, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 35 x 30 cms

What risks have you taken that perhaps did not go so well but you learnt the most from?

There are many times when I've tried to make paintings and they have gone under, swamped by over-working and, perhaps, under-preparation. But nothing is lost. Nearly every painting is a learning experience.

I think there is something about contemporary painting which is, and should be, quite humble. I don't think a painting has been made that is riskier than Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon, and that was made more than a century ago. That was an amazing era when painting was clearly taking the obvious risks and adventures. I think the risks we take now are subtle, psychological, philosophical. Painters know we're not considered at the cutting edge in the art world. Yet we still do it. In my view, the risk and the challenge are to go, possibly quietly, into the absurd and the incomprehensible.

Toad, 2019, Oil on canvas, 50 x 45 cms

What is your favourite exhibition you have participated in and why?

I mostly love being in group shows and the moment when you have finished hanging a solo show is fantastic. I have to say though that it's really all over then. I don't really enjoy Private Views.

But I do absolutely love performing on stage with John Hegley: a high point for me was a late spot at Latitude with a big audience, many of whom had flowers in their hair. Another was at the Udderbelly Festival on the Southbank, in a beautiful venue, rather like an old music hall, joined by Diego Brown and the Good Fairy. More recently in a cabaret at the Wanstead Tap, with the fantastic Frank Chickens topping the bill.

What would you hope that people experience from encountering your work?

What stage performing with John has shown me is how joy can be spread and how humour can bring brief respite to our lives. I think this is profound and humbling.

Of all the visual arts, I think painting has the most power to touch us in a deep, complex, non-literal way (of course I would think that!). I can think of a few painters who succeed in this, but it's rare. I would like to touch people in that way although I don't think I'm there yet. Writing this reminds me to focus on that aim.

Shopping, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 50 x 40 cms

Could you tell us a bit more about at a time when you felt stuck and what you did to help yourself out of it?

When I was at Chelsea doing my MA, my father died, and I found myself blank. On the advice of my tutor, I went out with a video camera with a very open mind, curiosity, no agenda.

When that sense of lack happens to me now I'm very gentle with myself, and gentle with my work.

When I'm stuck struggling with a particular painting, that's a different thing. I work on many paintings at the same time and when one is proving difficult, I just put it out of sight and work on another. At some point you'll take the original painting by surprise and know what needs to be done.

Walking, 2019, Oil on Canvas, 45 x 35 cms

What kind of studio visits, conversations or meetings with curators, producers, writers, press, gallerists, or collectors do you enjoy or get the most out of?

I don't get many conversations and I'm always curious about what people say. I like to hear the positive and the negative because it's all useful. It's always good to see Rosalind Davis from Collyer Bristow, Agnieszka Prendota from Arusha Gallery, yourself, and Monika Bobinska who ran Canal.

Do you have a trusted muse, mentor, network, or circle of friends you consult for critical feedback?

Yes, but very few! The relationship must be very trusting for me to know I'm hearing their truth and for them to feel safe to tell it.

Which artists or creatives do you feel your work is in conversation with?

That's very difficult. There are painters whom I admire and feel a connection to, like Mama Andersson, Jochim Nordstrom, Hernon Bas, Michael Armitage. There are photographers like Stan Douglas who resonate. They are all image makers and storytellers. However, these are only one-way conversations. Amongst my peers, I would say there are various low-key painterly (and personal) conversations going on, between me and Cathy Lomax, Jacqueline Utley, Jeff Dennis, Greg Rook, John Campbell, and Freya Douglas Morris - and others.

The Hunting of the Wodewose 3, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 x 80 cms

How do you make money to support your practice?

I've done many things: lecturing, admin, cleaning. I was a PA in the House of Lords for a year, I worked at the Institute of Psychiatry, interviewing Alzheimer’s carers another year. Most recently I worked in the finance department for the studio providers, Acme. To be honest, I gave up lecturing because it was so hard to get. I needed to make money and took the path of least resistance.

What compromises have you made to sustain your practice?

I think the compromises early on were huge. I did meaningless, unsatisfying work, so I was very poor; I put my personal life second. I stayed in unhealthy relationships, I didn't even consider whether I could have a family. I didn't expect to have very much, and I think at times life was much bleaker than most people outside the art world would tolerate. For quite a long time I blamed my practice for this, but now I can see the bigger picture better.

What advice would you give your past self?

Believe in yourself. Be brave, be seen.

Gift 2, 2020, Oil on canvas, 52 x 80 cms

Can you recommend a book, film, or podcast that you have been inspired by that transformed you're thinking?

In painting, I think finding the work of Karen Kilimnik was transformative. I was brought up to over-invest in logical thinking and I tended to try and think my way through painting. In Karen's work I saw the kind of dreaming and fantasy which was natural to me, but which I hadn't realised was allowed. I was for a long time very hidebound by what I thought was allowed. After that, painting stopped being painful.

A book that was transformative would be Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche's 'Shambhala - The Sacred Path of The Warrior'. It was my introduction to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

Follow Eleanor @eleanor_moreton or visit www.eleanormoreton.co.uk

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Coming Next...

An interview with Francesca Gavin, curator and writer based in London. She is the Art Editor of Twin, editor at large at Kaleidoscope and contributing editor at Good Trouble, Beauty Papers and Semaine. She was the co-curator of the Historical Exhibition of Manifesta11 and has curated exhibitions internationally including Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi (Somerset House); The Dark Cube (Palais de Tokyo), E-Vapor-8 (Site Sheffield), and The New Psychedelia (Mu).

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