John Foster

John’s Words on Painting:

One of the aims in my murals is to comprehend the nature of the country I live in. Simply by painting the unadorned image in front of me – without going into detail, but selecting the basic underlying structure, I come to know what the country is like.

… painting is very gradual realization, over years, of how this world is structured.

What I like about painting is that it is full of the sunshine, colour and structure of the world that I see around me. It is a celebration of what is before my eyes.

Painting celebrates the world, which is revealed in all its splendid detail. But it is impossible to paint all that detail; indeed, it is not even necessary. The attempt is to strip the detail to leave some essential form subliminally exposed.

…I am not an abstract painter, rather an extract painter – I extract the vital aspects that constitute those objects. For instance the objects on a beach crowded with people, I choose aspects that can be summed up intuitively as the shape of a man or surfboard. Yet the overall impression of the crowd remains.

When I began to paint these big pictures, I had no idea that I was making murals. That was not my intention at all.

What I really like about painting big is the scope, freedom, the area to work and change my mind, and add any new ideas that occur to me, in order to evolve a new pictorial space.

Colin McCahon said to me one day that painting was a matter of life and death. It has to have the urgency, anxiety, the furtiveness that is the human condition – his work has it.

I take only a few minutes to throw some paint onto a panel, but it can take weeks to get it into the right place. What has to be lived are the hours and hours of doubt while sitting there looking at the partly finished work.

Woollaston once told me there were only two rules to painting: slosh the paint on and wipe it off. What he was saying in effect was that painting is only tentative – paint is put on in an almost random way, then has to be looked at to see if it is right. If it is felt wrong it has to be changed.

…every time I load my brush and make a stroke, it is the wrong stroke, which has to be gone over, changed, corrected.

A person has to feel a beautiful painting – it can’t be said in words. It has to be felt in every bone, every ounce of blood surging through the heart and veins.

…the dawn chorus of birds is not unpleasant to listen to. Each little bird sings his own piece in his own way. Does he give any thought to his sound harmonizing with the overall effect? That is the way I would like to paint – every little form or colour area adding to the overall fabric.

…the painting must flow out from the heart as easily as the signature flows from the hand – not from the overcareful mind.

Printmaking is an extension of visual awareness. Only those painters who know how to make prints have understood the nature of the pictorial surface, the flatness of it.

Printmaking »