Thursday, December 18, 2008

Water color - contact sport?

This story about English water colorist Tony Foster.

for certain artists – such as J.M.W. Turner, the 19th-century Englishman who, it's said, once had himself strapped to the mast of a ship in order to record a storm at sea – it becomes something resembling an extreme sport. Take Tony Foster, a contemporary English watercolorist who has specialized in wilderness scenes for the past quarter century.

I do recall the story of Admiral Farragut having himself strapped to a ship mast before the Battle of Mobile Bay, but that was a naval battle.

"I suppose the most kind of instant danger I've encountered was when I was working in the [Costa Rican] rain forest," the 62-year-old said here on a recent Sunday afternoon, after a lecture at the Autry Center for Western Art. "I'd been told to look out for white-lipped peccaries: They're wild pigs, which sounds innocuous enough, but in fact they gang together, 20 or 30 of them, and they act together; and they're quite capable of knocking you down, knocking you out, and chewing you up. People have been killed by them.

"And I was sitting in a dried-up riverbed, painting a cashew-nut tree, when these peccaries lined up on either side of the riverbank; and they obviously wanted cashew nuts. I was sitting drawing, and when they're angry, they clatter their teeth together – if you can imagine a suitcase full of false-teeth being tipped onto a tile floor, it's that kind of tremendous clattering noise. And they all started clattering at me, and lined up along the riverbank, and then charged . . . at me.
"The scientist I was working with had said, 'If you see white-lipped peccaries, run up a tree.' But there wasn't a tree I could run up. So I put my drawing-board above my head and ran back at these peccaries, shouting obscenities at them at the top of my lungs, and they sort of retreated back up the bank. And then I went and sat down again, thinking they were probably going away. But they kept coming back, and I kept charging back at them; and this sort of charge and countercharge went on for probably 20 minutes. In the end, finally, they ran back up the bank, and I ran in the opposite direction and left them to it. Afterwards, I heard from an anthropologist who'd lived many years in the jungle; and he said that the only animal he was really frightened of was the white-lipped peccary."

Mr. Foster has traveled much since then – to the West Indies, the Bolivian Andes, Greenland and Nepal, among other places. His art projects center on themes – "Rain Forests," "Deserts," "Volcanoes" – each of which takes three or four years to complete. On his journeys, he obeys the rule of wilderness back-packers – "What you carry in, you must carry out" – and his pictures are colored with paints all contained in a single box the size of his hand.
Difficult to conceive of a painter using such limited supplies.

The artist conceives of his breathtaking pictures (some, done in sections, are as large as six feet) as "watercolor diaries of journeys in wilderness," with the visual scenes bordered by written, printed or stenciled notes on events of the trip, and symbolic souvenirs (sometimes actual objects) that reference the region.

He has also painted Everest from three different angles. The account of that trip is amazing.

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