Artist's cardboard creations capture humanity of his subjects

Smiths Falls artist Joe Foster pays tribute to clients of the soup kitchen where he and his wife volunteer by painting their portraits on cardboard.

Joe Foster paints portraits of clients at Smiths Falls soup kitchen

Joe Foster's paintings on cardboard pay tribute to the 'discarded' people he's met and befriended at The Mission soup kitchen in Smiths Falls, Ont., where he volunteers with his wife. (Joe Foster)

Artist Joe Foster is hard to miss. He's big. He has a booming voice. And his smile is so inviting you just have to stop and chat.

Foster and his wife, Nicole Foster, volunteer at The Mission, a soup kitchen on Beckwith Street in Smiths Falls, Ont. She does the cooking, he does the talking.

Foster found himself so moved by the stories the drop-in's clients shared with him that he decided to paint them. But first he had to gain their trust.

"I got invested in them. I talked to them. I drove them to appointments. If they were low a couple of bucks for a pack of smokes, I'd lend them some money. And then they let me in, and they became such good friends that I thought, I want to paint these people so I can remember them for myself."

Joe Foster was a recent guest on All In A Day.

Foster got the idea to paint his subjects on cardboard instead of canvas. 

"What better medium than cardboard? It's discarded. It's urban. It's gritty. And I know the way the world looks at these people is kind of discarded. I'll put 'Fragile' stickers on the paintings, I'll rip it back to the corrugate. But what I do at the end is what really matters to me," said Foster. 

"I frame them in gilded gold because I believe that although we my see them as cardboard, that's not what they are. And I have 100 stories of touching moments that I've seen take place at The Mission, and you realize the humanity of these people is just incredible." 

People are taking notice of Foster's work, in Smiths Falls and beyond. He'll exhibit his work in Ottawa in April at the Atomic Rooster on Bank Street. He'll be in Guelph, Ont., in the summer. A pizza chain owner even offered to fund a show if Foster agreed to paint some faces on his pizza boxes.

A portion of any sales will go toward helping The Mission fulfil its mandate to nourish people and provide a place for them to socialize.

"If you're willing to invest in a friendship, they will always be there," Foster said

Here are some of Foster's cardboard creations:

(Joe Foster)
(Joe Foster)
(Joe Foster)
(Joe Foster)
(Joe Foster)