Q&A with Steven Foy
Where were you born?
Newton Heath, Manchester, England.
What experiences from your childhood and adolescence influenced your interest and participation in art now?
I had several stays in hospital before the age of 11 with a fair bit of convalescence that followed. These stays were due to eye operations. I was unable to use my eyes much in the early stages of recovery so I had a lot of time to think. Experiencing the world with reliance on hearing, touch, smell and taste was a very informative part of my understanding of my immediate environment. Then I suppose when I had full use of my eyes again, looking at things just seemed to be so important and so vivid to me.
Why did you choose to become an artist?
I am not sure that I ever did choose. It just seemed to happen that way. I was always doing something creative in my teens, drawing, painting, and playing in bands. I also wrote lyrics in those days.
How did you become an artist?
I kind of ended up at Art College by accident, but once I was there I new that it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. The story of the "accident" is more interesting.
It was always my intention to eventually go on to study Art. Having just left a position of employment in a hardware store by mutual consent, I decided to get a place of my own with one of my then band members. When we were not playing I had absolutely nothing to do. One day my roommate told me she needed some help carrying some heavy portfolios to an interview at Rochdale College of Art & Design. I agreed to help her. For some strange reason the interviewer ask my roommate if it was ok for me to come in on the interview. Bemused, I sat in. After ten minutes or so, the interviewer was satisfied my roommate was a suitable candidate and turned his attention to me. He asked me to enroll on his then experimental part-time foundation course without seeing any work. I accepted and two years later I found myself doing a degree.
Where do you find inspiration for your art?
I see things all around me that filter into my way of thinking. I think of how I can put them together some how. My former city life with my current country life—how can they be synthesized to make sense as contemporary art? I believe that the artist’s subject should come from life. Not from some mystical other worldly place. This is not to say that these things are not evoked in the work or to deny the existence and influence of these things on some people's thinking. It is to say that the image produces what might be beyond, from the physical fact of its existence.
Who are some of your favorite artists?
Rembrandt Van Rijn, Claude Monet, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Joseph Albers, Piet Mondrian, Paul Klee, Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Georgio Morandi, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and generally the Abstract Expressionist. Brice Marden, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin. British painters, Francis Davison, Sean Scully and Basil Beattie.
On my New York visits I have come across the work of Lloyd Martin. I think he is the best painter I have seen for a long time. Also some great stuff from Jim Napierala.
What are your creative, visual and conceptual concerns for the current paintings you are working on?
The current series "Orders" is consistent with my recent direction that saw the production of "Arrangements" series. The statement for that series applies pretty much to the new series in its general concerns. Visually I wanted to make more of an emphasis on the structure.
The "Arrangement" series is a large body of work and is on-going.
My work generally, and in particular, the "Arrangement" series can be described in the crudest sense as formal abstraction. I like to think that there is always a bit more to it than that. Think of them as a synthesis between man-made-order and things in nature—man’s desire to regulate and organize a collection of non-specific shapes, primordial scratching in sticky colored substances.
The works are concerned with man made order and organic growth, and the tension between the construction of the painting, like an industrial process and the growing of something in nature from seed.
Somehow an imperfect shape is closer to nature and therefore more truthful than a strictly delineated form. For instance, a barrel of apples from the same tree will yield a variety of rounded shapes. All of which will be different.
The results are a contemplation of the consequences. This is the point where more is possible.
What creative and technical methods do you like to use and which are you not fond of?
Fluid paint and large brushes are used in the early stages of each piece. All the work is started flat on the floor or on a table. They will then be moved to a wall to be continued. Sometimes there is the necessity to work again on the piece from above on a flat surface. I mask out areas with tape and newspaper to produce a succession of spaces. I use a lot of building and decorating tools, as well as cardboard and strips of wood to manipulate the paint surface and to make texture. Generally I am not satisfied by what the brush leaves behind, particularly in the finishing stages.
What is your criteria for creative satisfaction when painting?
Chromatic and structural balance are my intentions, but I like to feature some kind of playful challenge in the form of a contradiction to the standard idea of abstract representation or image.
How do you see your future as an artist?
I always see to it that I can make some work of some kind regardless of any financial constrictions or outside circumstances that may stand in the way of my time. I would like to think I could get the work in a higher profile and exhibit more widely. I think being in England is a handicap to my further exposure. My work is generally considered unfashionable here. Abstraction is still difficult for the British.
What do you want to achieve as an artist?
Respect is wonderful, but it doesn’t pay the bills. Some fame I suppose might bring in some money. That would be nice. I would be happy with enough to pay for my art practice and live a bit, although more, I wouldn't grumble about. Being influential, I am not sure how I would cope with that. Maybe I would be paranoid that somebody is getting rich doing something I slogged over with no money? But the real thing that bothers me about that aspect is, being responsible for producing a whole load of bad artists producing pastiches of ones work or interpreting it all wrongly. Look at all the shit produced by artists claiming the influence of Duchamp and Warhol. This, of course, can happen with teaching too, but I don’t like teaching that much anyway.
I see myself more like Agnes Martin. She took herself off to what was perceived to be, "the middle of nowhere" and made art that was her own. She did not require other artists to be around her to grow. I see myself doing a similar thing.
© Steven Foy
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