Friday, July 24, 2009

"Artistic Visions" (Helena Independent Record newspaper article)

"Artistic visions", By EVE BYRON - Independent Record - 07/24/09

Clare Becker Independent Record - Lance Foster poses in his studio space off of Last Chance Gulch in front of some recent pieces. Foster's work often examines the role of the artist in society, both as outsider and as a transcendent force. Regarding the choice of bright colors in his paintings, Foster says ‘I just do what's in me to do.’

If the bold colors used by painter Lance Foster don’t grab your attention, chances are the eyes of the “The Guardian” will.

It’s a life-size painting that Foster, the new artist-in-residence at the Lewis and Clark County Historical Society, created about 30 years ago while a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M. Foster said the dorm in which he lived was haunted; when he wasn’t in his room, students reported hearing someone getting out of bed, footsteps and the sound of a doorknob jiggling.

So he painted The Guardian, based on the Lakota warrior “Low Dog” or “He Dog,” who had fought against Gen. George Custer. Foster added power symbols, some obvious and some embedded in the painting, then hung it in the dorm room.

“The sounds were quieted,” he says with a smile.

He adds that renowned Helena painter Bob Morgan gave him a piece of advice early on that he apparently didn’t take to heart.

“He said my colors are so bright they’ll put people off. They want stuff to match their couch,” Foster recalled. “I said ‘Oh well, then no one will buy my stuff.’ I just like to paint what I like.”

Foster is as complex as his paintings, with both obvious and subtle traits that have brought him to the historical society’s space on the downtown Walking Mall. He’s a large man with a soft voice who grew up in Helena, the eldest son of Gary and Rita Foster. As a boy, he spent hours at Eddie Barbeau’s house, with its colorful teepees and painted garage, where traditional American Indian ceremonies were commonplace.

“That was a big influence on me,” said Foster, noting that his American Indian heritage includes Ioway, Yankton and Santee. “You know when you’re in school, and every class has the weird kid who’s the artist? That was me. I was always drawing pictures instead of doing school work.”

He earned a degree from the University of Montana in anthropology and Native American studies, then master’s degrees in anthropology and landscape architecture from Iowa State University. He combines those studies in his art, joking that the education allowed him to keep painting while eking out a living as a “shovel bum” (also known as an archaeologist).

“My art is all about a sense of place,” Foster said. “I’m trying to tell a story, to transform people’s ideas of place.”

Foster spent a few months in Africa doing environmental sanitation work, and a few years in Alaska with the National Park Service. He eventually landed in Hawaii, where his wife, Lisa, grew up, and Foster got a job as director of native rights, land and culture for the Office of Hawaiian affairs.

While some might wonder about a non-Hawaii native being the protector of their rights, Foster said it was a good fit because of his cultural and educational background. He grew the department from three to 13 people and they had made some significant progress in protecting artifacts and properties, but Foster said he grew tired of fighting.

“There was some heavy-duty psychic warfare going on, and my folks were getting older, so we decided to come home in 2006,” Foster said.

So these days he paints, gives historic walking tours of Helena, and is an adjunct instructor of art and archaeology at the University of Montana-Helena.

Clare Becker Independent Record - Lance Foster works on a small painting, ‘Timberline,’ in his studio on Last Chance Gulch. The large painting to his right is ‘Bohogoi,’ a work that examines the role of folklore, modern art and the four directions of the natural world. Foster says his style has similarities to stained glass.

Paul Putz, the county historic preservation officer, said it’s wonderful to have someone like Foster as an artist in residence.

“He’s an interesting addition to the scene downtown,” Putz said. “His work has a bold clarity; it’s very well rendered. His portraits are very compelling, and it’s excellent work.

“Like many artists, he has a broad view of society and its aspects, particularly in relation to aesthetics but also about the ideas.”

Foster is at the Historical Society from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, eager to do a little painting, and talk about his work, Helena history, or just about anything else. His stint is slated to run through July, but he might stick around a little longer.

“It depends on when school starts; I teach two classes — one about ghost hunting and paranormal investigations, and the other on cultural landscapes,” Foster said. “I’m still a starving artist, but I’ve got a lot to do.

“It would be fun to drive a nice car like a doctor or lawyer, but I think it’s better to be an artist, since you can get away with doing all the weird stuff.”

Clare Becker Independent Record - Foster designed a Helena T-shirt that he sells out of his studio in sizes ranging from baby to adult. Foster says his design was influenced by legendary comic artist, R. Crumb, and represents Helena in nine different landmarks including the Cathedral of St. Helena and Mount Helena.

If you go:

Lance Foster’s work is on display at the Lewis and Clark Historical Society, in the Power Block, 58 N. Last Chance Gulch.

The museum is open Monday to Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Foster keeps office hours Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Reporter Eve Byron: or 447-4076

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