Born in Waipukurau, in the east coast of the North Island of New Zealand in 1977, Ben Foster developed a deep appreciation of the natural surroundings from an early age, something which figures prominently in his sculptures. He lives with his partner Sabrina Luecht in the scenic coastal town of Kaikoura.
The sculptor is a keen observer with sharpened senses partaking the beauty and daily activity of his surroundings.
Ben uses monochromatic, polygonal elements to create geometric reconstructions of intimate moments from the lives of his subjects which he so often shares on a regular basis. His work is widely appreciated in and beyond New Zealand where he has held multiple solo and group exhibitions.
Tell us about the experiences of your childhood and how your immediate environment, at home and outdoors, helped in shaping the artist and human being in you.
I grew up with very creative parents who managed to support our family through their artistic practices. My mother is a seamstress, my father was an automotive panel beater and contract fencer but spent most of my childhood carving and turning creative wooden bowls.
Most of my childhood years were spent travelling around New Zealand in a house bus which Dad had built from an old Bedford bus. This transient lifestyle certainly helped form the adult I have become.
I spent a great deal of time in the outdoors exploring new environments as we traversed the New Zealand countryside. I have many fond memories of days spent making huts and daydreaming. Being homeschooled allowed a great deal of time for play and exploring my environment.
I’ve always had a desire to build things. I was often fascinated by my grandfathers engineering and welding of metal tools or my parents’ creative practices. Living such a transient lifestyle as a child, I often wonder if I use metal as my primary medium in sculpting due to its permanence.
The small coastal town of Kaikoura I now call home possesses many of the New Zealand geographical elements I hold dear – the rugged snow-capped mountains, equally rugged coastline and the incredibly diverse flora and fauna that inhabit this region.
Have you developed an appreciation of nature since your early days? How were you inspired to explore the world of art?
Absolutely. Living in a house-bus as a child meant no television, so we really needed to find our own forms of entertainment.
Ever since I was young I was often told I was a gifted artist which I always wanted to be (as an adult). In high school, I excelled in my art classes. My high school career guidance advisor was a fine art graduate. She often lent me foreign art magazines, the likes of which I had never seen.
These publications and discussions about the fine art world left a lasting impression that would eventually take me to art school as an adult to study sculpture, and establish my own practice.
You excel both in sculpting abstract pieces and models that are closer to reality. How do you decide on a theme? Does the location also influence the decision?
Location certainly plays an important role in my chosen themes. Living in a rural town such as Kaikoura makes many aspects of an international art practice challenging logistically, but I chose this place as there is a stillness here, a simplicity of daily life that allows me a certain clarity when forming new ideas.
Very simply put, many of my figurative works are animals I share my daily life with or regularly encounter. My abstract works are also largely influenced by my geographical surroundings. The sudden change in weather seems far more dramatic here.
Does it feel ironical that you use tough metal sheets, albeit pliable, to erect delicate structures? How do you effectively utilise colour, light etc to create an optimal impression?
For sure. I often experiment with timber, but somehow find myself completing the piece in aluminium. Again, I enjoy the permanence of the final works. The idea that starts life as a thought, a gestural sketch becomes far from fluid. A culmination of countless hours, a metalworker works with so many tools of varying purposes.
The final finish eliminating any trace of this process, the marks of the maker, reaching a final form that communicates an element of simplicity. It allows the viewers’ mind to wander a little.
Some of your sculptural pieces, like the Golden Boy, resemble origami paper sculptures. Do you actively seek inspirations from other genres/forms of art?
I definitely find inspiration in popular culture. Movies mostly. We have a small community run movie theatre here in Kaikoura – the MayFair Cinema, which I have an active role in. I often receive a great deal of inspiration throughout the duration of a movie and will often return to my studio afterwards to sketch newly formed ideas.
You work on a gigantic scale for your sculptural essays. How does it help in elaborating and complementing your vision? As an artist, how does it feel to create visual identities for a place?
This is something I have only recently begun to appreciate. It took some time to notice just how important my sense of place is and the impact this has on my creative output. I’m incredibly proud to be a Kiwi and feel very privileged to live in a place I love.
It feels very natural and honest, I guess, to create works that speak of my place here. It’s a very simple approach in essence and can be a very fulfilling to create a work that speaks of a place.
Your artwork took you to places. Tell us how learning about other geographical and cultural vistas help nourish your artistic soul.
I love to travel to new places. Foreign cities are sensual overloads coming from my small rural town. I’m surrounded by sparsely populated countryside here and often get a craving for a culture fix. I love to travel, viewing new public artworks and beautiful architecture of all ages.
If you are requested to sculpt your life’s journey so far what form would it take?
Reflective… multifaceted. It would reflect the surrounding environment and the people within it. Through its reflective nature, the sculpture would speak of its surroundings. The form is there and certainly very important, but is nothing without the influence of it’s constantly shifting surroundings.
What Ben does in his spare time?
Beyond his sculptural explorations, Ben is an enthusiastic surfer. And during the summer months, he relishes nothing more than the strawberries from his vegetable garden. As you may have already read, he likes to watch movies now and then. But it is the first Star Wars movie that remains his favourite. And the book that he enjoys most, well unsurprisingly, it is The Hobbit by J R R Tolkien.
Find more of his work at his website.