Art Is Everywhere


Head Stash

Abigail Flowers

A Profile of Artist Johnston Foster

When we see trash cans and dumpsters we usually look away or think of the things inside as old and stinky trash.  However, when Johnston Foster looks at the items others have thrown away, he obviously sees art.  He is also committed to creating his sculptures.  For one project Mr. Foster collected green garden hoses that were discarded for over two years.  Using what he finds around him, he creates amazing sculptures for art installations – a green snake pit in the case of the garden hoses.  Mr. Foster was kind enough to share some of his thoughts on making art, his career, and his inspiration.

Born in Williamsburg, Virginia, Foster graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and then completed a summer semester at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Art in Maine.  Mr. Foster described his first offer in college, “I was offered $30 for a small sculpture that consisted of a McDonald’s tray with leftover food wrappers on it.  The drink cup had a small motor in it that caused the straw to go up and down and squeak repeatedly.  I never followed up  to get the money and ended up keeping it because I liked it so much.  I thought it was hilarious someone wanted to buy fast food trash.”

Before he even finished his Master of Fine Arts at Hunter College, he was already working with a gallery in New York.  This was quite an accomplishment already.  Using an eight-foot-tall dead tree made of scrap wood, styrofoam to create a hanging bees’ nest, wood glue to mimic honey, and dangling hot glue clumps with small motors that jumped around like bees flying around the hive, Mr. Foster made his first real sale.  Even just reading his description, you can imagine the work vividly.  Since then, his art has been exhibited around the world, including Toronto, Canada, Paris and Grenoble, France, Athens, Greece, and Prague, Czech Republic, just to name a few.  He was lucky enough to spend a month living in Bogota, Columbia to create and exhibit a show, as well as Beijing, China.

Johnston Foster uses his sculptures to show how the products people throw away such as pvc, tiles, hoses, screws, and even coffee grinds can create his works of art.  Previously, he has been quoted as saying part of the message he wants people to see in his art is that the individual items he uses and how throwing them away wastes their potential.  He challenges people to think about how wasteful it is to discard so much and how it could be repurposed into something else – something beautiful.

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One of his more recent jobs was to create a huge art installation to be put in a restaurant in a 21c (a chain of boutique hotels).   The name of that exhibit is “Buzzkill” and the restaurant is called “The Hive.”  For people eating there, it is supposed to be as if you are hanging out in giant beehive.  There are chunks of oozing honeycomb and big honeybees hanging from the ceiling.  Throughout the restaurant are giant vines of kudzu, with skulls, birds, and snakes among the vines.  His work can be seen in several locations of 21c Hotels now.  Mr. Foster was quoted in The Globe and Mail as saying, “To refer to living creatures, through re-purposing mass-produced, man-made garbage – there’s a magic to that. It brings life back to those materials, like alchemy.”

So, it’s impossible to speak with Mr. Foster and not wonder what inspires him to create and where he “thinks of” ideas for new art.  It turns out, Mr. Foster is thinking about his art all the time.  “I am constantly preoccupied with brainstorming, daydreaming, and contemplating my ideas and processes I want to explore and the ones I am currently in the middle of working on.  My sculptures often take long amounts of time and are labor intensive and repetitive in process to create.  Some of my best thinking occurs while making the sculptures.”  It is inspiring to hear how his use of repurposed materials “transform and find new identities for familiar things we take for granted” excites him.

Speaking about making a career out of his art, Mr. Foster says he had no idea how to do it as a career, but he knew he wanted to make things all day, every day and he was willing to make that happen no matter what.  With the support and encouragement of his family, he was able to pursue his passion – working hard and doing his best.  His hard work shows, and he is fortunate to be able to make a living following his passion.