The Raccoon speaks to Coventry-based artist Jack Foster about the deeper meanings that lie within his work, upcoming exhibitions and bloody Salman Rushdie…
Hello Jack, how would you describe your work?
My paintings combine inferences of pilgrimage, prayer, superstition, sites that are important to the three major monotheisms, Skinner box pigeons and painterly abstractions.
Deterministic philosophy, non-theocratic morality, Darwinism, materialism and anthropology also inform my practice, as does religion’s conflict with the above.
Largely, my work is intended to be exploitative of type 1 and 2 pattern seeking errors that are made by the brain. Anthropological explanations of superstition revolve around these types of errors; the false recognition of a pattern where there is none and the failure to recognise a true pattern.
When grouped, the paintings allow for the emergence of intentional and unintentional, real and false patterns and relationships between and within paintings.
There is a dominating religious theme to your work, is that something that stems from your personal life or do you just find that religion is an interesting area to capture artistically?
I was brought up in a very secular home so I was never baptised or anything. The criticisms of religion and religiosity aren’t reactions to any childhood indoctrination of my own. I realised early on that all these doctrines, adhered to by the majority of the worlds population, come into conflict with things that we know to be facts. The question of the existence of a god, of miracles, of prophets flying upwards to paradise on winged horses, are scientific questions, open to reason and falsification.
The obvious harm that religion causes, especially in the last decade or so, has brought it back to the forefront of contemporary philosophy and morality. I think the cultural relativism bandwagon is falling apart, largely, thanks to philosophers like Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. It’s increasingly difficult for somebody to dismiss criticism of things like the religious mutilation of little girl’s genitals, with phrases like “who are you to say that cutting off little girl’s clitorises is wrong? We have our culture and they have theirs”.
Ridiculous religious beliefs should be no more shielded from criticism than ridiculous non-religious beliefs. Somehow, for a very long time, they’ve enjoyed a disproportionate amount of protection. This protection allows the development of radicalisation. It also doesn’t help when people confuse race and religion when responding to criticism towards faiths.
What artists have had an influence on your style?
Painters like Luc Tuymans and Peter Doig have had some influence recently but the tutors that taught me at university have influenced me the most. Hopefully my style is quite hard to define as it shifts. The surface of the painting is largely a by-product of the concepts and ideas that are its make-up and most of my concepts and ideas come from reading lots of philosophy and science.
Last year, I went down to the John Moor painting prize. Probably half of the paintings in it have been influencing me for a long time, I’m still looking at the book for bits of paintings to steal, whether its a technical application of paint or a colour combination or something.
In your artist’s statement you mention type 1 and 2 pattern seeking errors made by the brain, and that your work seeks to exploit these errors. How did such a scientific area originally influence you?
Anthropological ideas of pattern seeking came into my work because of pre-existing interests in naturalism, darwinism and other branches of science. It’s interesting to think how far towards disproving a superstition an explanation of its origin can go.
Although you can’t technically disprove ghosts, if you were given a complete working explanation of WHY you believe in ghosts, you are likely to abandon all belief in them. If you believed that the colour orange brought you bad luck, would you remain fixed on the belief having been given an explanation of WHY you believe orange to be unlucky?
It’s impossible to scientifically disprove any prime mover, but given a perfectly adequate explanation of the universe, there’s no need to impose one. A lot of this work is sort of to do with the implications of a philosophical tool called Ockham’s razor.
Do you think that having an understanding of how the brain works allows you to create better artwork?
I don’t have any real understanding of how the brain works; I talk about pattern seeking from an evolutionary standpoint. I’m interested in the way pattern seeking was, and is, useful in a Darwinian context and the involvement of pattern seeking in origins of superstition.
To talk about any ideas in your work, you should at least have a basic understanding of it, there’s already so much obscurantism and half-arsed research in art.
Do you think that influences on your work are created consciously or subconsciously?
I feel I’m pretty aware of my conceptual influences, like I said, the books, lectures and debates that I actively seek out have the biggest effect on me so conceptually, I’m relatively conscious of my input. Obviously, a lot of my work is also likely influenced by subconscious ideas, but if I were conscious of them, I’d tell you what they were.
You describe yourself, primarily as a painter, what other mediums do you like working in?
Ideas for paintings normally begin with collages of photocopied images, rather than sketches or drawings. I started making drawing, collage things using charcoal, chalk dusts, photocopies, tracing paper, gold leaf etc. I’ve only done a couple but I really like them so I’ve made frames ready to do more, a huge one and some small ones. Making frames myself is important to the work, they have to fit with the work and be relevant to it.
How difficult is it for young artists to sculpt a career for themselves in what is a presumably incredibly competitive industry?
I’ve been very lucky with a couple of things so far and I’ve got a couple of successful friends who have been professional artists for a long time. I’ve got a lot of sources for good advice. Currently though, I’m focusing on getting my work out there, keeping myself in shows and stuff. I’m ready to try to make a career out of my work.
What exhibitions/shows have you got coming up?
There are a few coming up that are set in stone. The 31st of May is our degree show, there are a lot of artists and some really nice work. The degree show is in the Graham Sutherland Building in Coventry city centre, I think it’s on for a week after the 31st.
After that, a few of us will be in a big show on Brick Lane in London called Free Range that runs between May 31 and July 1.
I will also have a solo show in the Lewis Gallery in Rugby; I won it along with a three month residency for a drawing competition.
…and finally, is there any chance of Raccoons cropping up in your artwork anytime soon?
Like a painting of Mohamed flying upwards to paradise on a winged raccoon? I’d end up like fucking Salman Rushdie.
If you want to find out more about Jack and keep updated with his work and upcoming exhibitions then head to his website. You won’t regret it, we promise you.