Nova Scotia·East Coast Studios

Bedford artist finds inspiration in skateboarding, scrap materials to fuel his art

Nova Scotia artist Johnston Foster’s pieces are made with found or repurposed materials. His studio has an unusual setup.

Johnston Foster’s pieces are made with found or repurposed materials

Johnston Foster uses materials that are 'really easy to manipulate and cut, and heat up and bend.' (Submitted by Johnston Foster )

This story is part of our East Coast Studios series, a CBC Creator Network project. The videos are an intimate look at how creatives shape their studios, and how their studios shape their work. Milliner Nicole McInnis pitched the series and was commissioned as an associate producer. Tim Mombourquette is the video producer for this first story. Audio by Jacob Comeau​​​​.

Artist Johnston Foster is a sculptor, but not in a hammer or chisel kind of way.

Mostly.

He's into the "realm of material manipulation and experimentation."

Foster's studio is found in his Bedford, N.S., home. There's an extension built onto the back and the ground floor is ground zero for his art.

There's only one window in the studio space, which means more wall space to store and hang his finds and creations.

For the past 20 years, Foster's been drawn to the things you probably don't want: old extension cords, scraps of fences, yoga mats, vinyl flooring, tire tubes from bicycles, garden hoses, broken furniture and hockey sticks.

Or PVC pipes, like the ones he collects from plumbing jobs.

"Those materials are really easy to manipulate and cut, and heat up and bend," he said.

Creatures and wildlife usually evolve out of his work.

Foster is drawn to creating creatures and wildlife. (Gloria Wooldridge for CBC)

Foster calls his studio "a no-time space."

It's sealed off and quiet, he said, which has a meditative quality.

There's also a skateboard ramp, which is another form of meditation for Foster.

Sometimes, he'll be skating, fall on his back, look up and see some material he'd like to use for a piece.

Foster's works have landed in the United States and Europe at places like MoMA PS1 (formerly the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center) and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.

Origins

The artist is originally from South Boston, Va. He has a bachelor of fine arts in sculpture from Virginia Commonwealth University, a master's in fine arts from Hunter College in New York and he attended the Skowhegan School for Painting and Sculpture in Madison, Maine.

He moved to Nova Scotia with his family in the summer of 2012. Foster and his partner, fashion designer and artist Amie Cunningham, have three boys. Cunnigham is from New Brunswick and has family in Nova Scotia.

Foster's studio. (Submitted by Johnston Foster )

Foster's creative work also spills over into his garage, or the upstairs of the house addition.

This isn't Foster's first studio. He's had several over the years. He was working in his basement for awhile.

He used an old restaurant in Spryfield, N.S., to create his largest piece, which was a team effort.

That work was an immersive beehive installation for the dining room of the hotel restaurant in 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville in Arkansas.

There's honeycomb, vines and leaves, the invasive species kudzu, over 100 different giant bees, human skulls and rats.

Foster created an installation for the 21c Museum Hotel Bentonville in Arkansas. (Submitted by Johnston Foster)

The list goes on.

The honeycomb is made out of wood glue, while the vines are made from garden hose.

Bentonville is Sam Walton's hometown, who founded Walmart and Sam's Club.

Daughter and heiress Alice Walton is a huge art collector and built an American art museum, Crystal Bridges, that's free to the public.

The 21c hotel opened to cater to people coming to see the art museum, Foster said, and there's some partnership.

CactiBirds. (Submitted by Johnston Foster )

"The full circle in that is not lost on me," he said, mentioning the balance between the corporate world, consumerism and excess.

Foster was able to finance his home studio after that project.

It's a place where recreation and art merges, he said.

"Who I am as a human being, and the human condition, and seeing the natural world and being inspired by the phenomenon in it, is what keeps me motivated and hopeful in my creative process," said Foster.

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With files from Tim Mombourquette for CBC

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