Words: Victoria Tait
Ben Foster creates life-sized animal sculptures out of enamel-coated aluminium.
Ben Foster comes across as one of those rare characters content and at peace with his life, and hugely passionate about his career. Given this, it is not surprising Ben’s works of art can now be found all over the world, including Brazil, London, Dubai, Singapore and Australia. He recently took a commission in the French Riviera, creating two dogs to sit on the side of an infinity pool overlooking the mountains.
From a young age, Ben was enthusiastic about art and was fortunate enough to have his mother and father encourage him. At the age of 16, he left high school in Hawke’s Bay to pursue his love at art school. “My tutor took me aside and said although he could see art was my true passion he felt I would benefit from gaining some life experience,” Ben recounts. He soon put his tuition on hold and instead took up a furniture-making apprenticeship, which later led to boat building.
In his early twenties he moved to Christchurch and was involved in fitting out the interior of a 60ft yacht. A fondness for sailing and the sea then encouraged him to accept the challenge of sailing from Nelson to New Caledonia with three friends on a 38ft yacht. The plan was for it to take seven days, but, due to some unpredictable weather conditions, it took three weeks. This affinity with the ocean and natural world has inspired Ben’s work, with the physical landscape so present in his designs.
At the age of 26, Ben’s life took a turn for the better, as he met his now-wife Liana. Understanding art was his first love and vocation, Liana prompted Ben to return to study, which saw him graduate from Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology (today’s Ara Institute Of Canterbury), before the pair set their sights on travelling Europe.
While overseas, Ben saw first-hand that “sculpting could be a viable option for a career”. With the influences of the European art world behind him and a new worldly perspective on life, Ben and his wife returned to New Zealand focused on making art his career first and foremost.
The couple intended on settling in a main city, but instead fell in love with the Kaikoura coast – a place that speaks to Ben’s artistic side. “My work is largely a response to the natural environment. For example, Golden Boy is the trusty labrador, who is a work companion and man’s best friend, Shadow (shark sculpture) is a misunderstood creature that plays a large role in my everyday life, as I’m a surfer.
“I like to see the humour and light harnessed when people view my work – it’s that instant recognition.”
Ben tells Style he recently he had an email from a woman who has a tattoo of Golden Boy, and another person who has a large image of it covering their livingroom wall.
“As an artist it’s great to see what your work means to people and how they interpret it.”
So, how did Ben find his place in this animal world? It all started with an exhibition he was involved in at the Auckland Art Gallery where the topic was to find your sense of self, and for this Ben chose a seal.
“I’ve always loved the seal, and living in Kaikoura and surfing, they play a large role in my everyday life. The piece sold straight away and that was the beginning of it all.”
Although Ben’s figurative animal sculptors have gained a huge international following he also sculpts abstract works. “I like to go back and forth between the two pieces. My abstract works are also very linked to my environment exploring the erosion, sand, wind, and the surf.”
What’s next on the cards for Ben Foster? This year, he has already sold Speedy, the greyhound, to a couple he met at dinner in London. He is working on a commission from Dubai for a falcon and the next project he’s thinking of is a deer – “Just the simple form of the doe, peeled back”. He will be holding another solo show in Auckland this November and, possibly – hopefully – something in Christchurch in the near future.