Now Featuring Caitlin Foster
New York artist Caitlin Foster produces meticulous, controlled drawings that capture the detailed chaos of pattern in natural forms. Influenced by the landscapes of California and natural history research, she also incorporates inevitable hints of the man-made, with influences including film and textiles.
MH: What are some of the influences on your work? I saw a brief online statement about forms in nature being an influence, but I also see textiles, and even perhaps a reference to cinema and costume in the Orfeu and Eurydice drawings, the titles of which made me remember the film Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro) and all the carnival scenes and banners in the movie.
CF: My work is influenced a lot by nature, but not neccessarily “nature” like woods and trees (though that is part of it) but more personal environment. I really started to think about this more after I moved to California for a few years. Prior to that, my work was solely portraiture, for as long as I can remember. I started to become interested more in the outside of the portrait, which became increasingly detailed and intricate in my drawings. California is such a stark contrast to where I grew up in New England that I couldn’t help but think about the new environment and new foliage and vegetation and land forms that were around me. Light is so different on the west coast it’s hard not to be in awe of it all the time if you’re not used to it. Karl Blossfelt’s plant photographs and Diderot’s Encyclopedia are both visual references to nature I’ve looked to a lot. The organization and repetition in textile has always been fascinating and something I try to replicate. A lot of the time I am trying to create an image that looks both organic and like a woven rug. Light and color in movies is something I am also channeling in my drawings, and very influential on my visual language.
MH: What kind of materials do you work with? The work seems very painstaking and exact. What’s your process like?
CF: I work with mostly micron pens or other tiny pens I find, or markers. Sometimes I draw things out a little bit ahead of time in pencil but usually I have an idea in my head of what needs to get done. I establish many parameters and rules for the pattern making, but I also like the inconsistencies and weird things that end up happening. It’s very exacting, and I often have blurry vision for a few minutes after drawing for long periods of time. Time, patience, and concentration are all things that also become part of the work. Drawing has become a way for me to hone and sharpen my focus, which is something I am always actively trying to do in other parts of my life.
MH: It’s always interesting to hear an artist describe the physical process of making their work, and to better understand their actual labor. Why do you think you’re drawn to such precise, exacting processes, and to repetition?
CF: I think a part of why I find myself in such a fastidious practice is that I want my drawings to have the same visual impact as something that’s easy to quickly understand with a short glance, but more intimate in its experience with the viewer. A natural reaction with something tiny and detailed is to examine it for a long time and experience all of its nuances and parts, at least I hope. Pattern and textile are literally everywhere, and it’s interesting to me to try to recontextualize these forms. After I moved to New York I was unemployed on and off for almost a year, and I suddenly had a ton of time on my hands. I wanted to try to utilize this overabundance of free time and take my work more seriously. Instead of spending an hour on a drawing, I decided to start spending a week or two on one thing. Slowing down my process also led to the crazy detail. I like drawing because it’s so portable; I don’t have a studio here, I just work from home, usually lying down.
MH: It seems like color is creeping into your more recent work. Can you talk about that?
CF: Yes, I’ve been trying to incorporate color more into my work more recently. Up until this point the most adventurous I would get would be using blue instead of black! Color is one thing I always really struggle with, it’s very difficult for me to get things right, however it’s something I really want to use more. But film is a huge color inspiration to me, more than anything else. I love the muted vibrant tones found in older movies, films like Black Orpheus, Pierre Le Fou, and so many of Kurosawa’s have especially resonated with me. Even the way color is expressed in the flattened tones of black and white movies is so minimal and beautiful. I love the ambiguity and room for interpretation black and white movies offer; the viewer is left to imagine how vivid and rich the colors in the story really are or aren’t.
MH: You’ve lived (or do live) in a few cities I know well, New York, Boston and Chicago. What are some of your favorite art spaces, or who are some artists you follow, from those places?
CF: I used to intern at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago, which I really loved. It’s still one of my favorite places I’ve worked; the exhibitions are removed in a lot of ways from the rest of the art world. I also lived in San Francisco for a few years, and Jancar Jones (which has since moved to LA) was my favorite art space in the city, along with the back room at Adobe Books and Triple Base. Cleopatra’s is a great small space in Brooklyn, as well as the Apartment shows in New York. So many artists in New York! There is such a high concentration here of course, and so many great ones. Caitlin Mociun is a designer in Brooklyn who designs her own textiles that she makes great clothing out of. I love her patterns. And Vija Celmins is one of my favorite artists whom I wish had monthly shows.
MH: I love Intuit, and have really enjoyed the times I’ve visited. Did the work of artists there have any influence on your work?
CF: Chris Hipkiss’ dense, monochrome landscape drawings have been something I’ve looked at a lot. His drawings are like paintings, and they’re kind of reminiscent of dance montages in old movies from the 1930s, like Busby Berkeley. I’m interested in Hipkiss’ relationship to wildlife and his depictions of nature. I love Sister Gertrude Morgan, her work is so upbeat and loose, with great color. Drossos Skyllas’ work is kind of eerie and disjointed yet painstakingly detailed and meticulously painted.