Summer Residents 2021: Robert Foster

A mix of small ceramic pots sits on a wooden table. They are all around palm size with brown, blue, grey, white and purple glazes and different textures. Some have been thrown on the wheel and others are handbuilt.Robert Foster's ceramics in the studio at SSW (2021). Photo: Zoë Tumika

In June this year we were glad to welcome the first of our 2020 Summer Residency artists, Robert Foster and his family, one year later than originally planned due to COVID-19. Here Robert writes about his experience on residency at SSW, including being an artist-in-residence with a young family and his experiments in the ceramics workshop.

Thanks for sharing this Robert, and we look forward to seeing what comes next for you all!

For the month of June, I was in residence at SSW accompanied by my partner Becky and our 8-month-old daughter Olwen. This was our first residency together as a family, having been deferred since 2020 due to Covid-19, and brought an element of the unknown as we worked together to discover how best to juggle work, childcare and other commitments during our time on site.

A white man with dark hair, glassws and a beard holds a young baby with blonde hair and smiles at the camera. He is wearing a stripey yellow t-shirt and shorts, and stands on mowed grass in front of a whitewashed wall. The letters SSW are in blue above his head.
Robert Foster and baby Olwen outside SSW (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.

My work focussed largely on ceramics and the process to create Agateware, pottery formed by marbling together different clay bodies, or coloured clays. The SSW ceramics studio provided an ideal space to learn and experiment, helped greatly by the advice and guidance of ceramics technician Beth, allowing me to develop a better overall understanding of ceramics, as well as some of the nuances of glazing, throwing and hand-building.

A close up of a wobbly, oval shaped ceramic form, coloured pink, yellow and green. The surface is shiny and bumpy. It looks quite small as it is sitting on a wooden surface and the grain is visible.
Ceramics by Robert Foster (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Through the various experiments, I allowed myself to be influenced by the vivid surrounding landscape, resulting in a series of organically shaped and methodically carved out hand-built vessels, which I will be keen to expand on in the future once back in my studio at Wysing Arts Centre.

A wobbly ceramics bowl. It is coloured deep purple with white 'veins' running all over. The veins look like they protrude from the surface. It is shiny and looks small as it sits on a wooden surface where you can see the grain.
Ceramics by Robert Foster (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.

In my final week on site, I was fortunate to take part in a Raku firing, a process of smoke firing ceramics, leading to beautifully organic and unpredictable results. This was a real discovery for me, both in the performative actions of the process of the firing itself, but also in the limitless possibilities that Raku offers.

From a distance, Beth the ceramics technician wearing a deep cobalt leather jacket and visor crouches to look at the open contents of the raku kiln. Two other people wearing orange leathers and visors stand nearby. Raku kit such as metal dustbins and a large canister of propane are dotted around. They are in the SSW yard and it is gloriously sunny.
Raku firing at SSW (2021). Photo courtesy of Robert Foster
A wobbly ceramic bowl held in a person's hand. It looks like a crystal with browns and blues sparkling in the sunshine. The centre is deep blue and sparkles enticingly.
Ceramics by Robert Foster (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.

During the residency, I was able to explore the other facilities on site, trying my hand at some blacksmithing in the forge and, thanks to technicians Eden and Michael, was taken through the process of bronze casting in the foundry; both completely new ways of working for me. I was struck by the primal nature of the process of transforming metal, which seemed to evoke a connection to the archaeology of the surrounding area and the ancient communities whose trace is still so present locally.

Two oblong bronze plates with a relief of a child's hand on concrete slabs.
Bronze casts of Olwen’s hand by Robert Foster (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist

From the moment we arrived, we were welcomed whole-heartedly and made to feel part of the wonderful community on site. Now back at home in the rolling, pastoral countryside of Suffolk, the rugged and elemental landscape of Aberdeenshire seems a distant memory. However, our time at SSW has left an indelible impression through the exchanges and new experiences made possible by the support and guidance of the team, providing lasting inspirations to carry forward.

A white woman, Becky, with shoulder-length blonde hair and wearing a red and pink spotty boiler suit sits at a table in the SSW studio holding baby Olwen who is grinning. On the table are lots of ceramic bowls in different colours and shapes laid out.
Becky and Olwen in the studio at SSW with Robert’s ceramics (2021). Photo courtesy of the artist.
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