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New project: Beauty - the Last Taboo

Date: 15 Oct 2012

Tony has started planning his major new project “Beauty – the Last Taboo”. Read more in Tony's prospectus for this project:


Beauty – The Last Taboo

Watercolour Diaries from Wild Places

In 1983 I was in New York attempting to find a gallery to represent me. Ronald Feldman, a potent force in Contemporary Art, took some of my paintings home to consider for the weekend. At our subsequent meeting he told me “I’ve really enjoyed having these around, but I’ve decided that I can’t represent you – the work is just too beautiful”.

In Contemporary Art, where Artists are free to tackle any subject – violence, decay, conflict, pollution and death – I realised that beauty had become the last taboo.

In her essay “The Nature of Beauty in Contemporary Art” Suzi Gablik writes: “ The critic Hilton Kramer is in the forefront of those who believe that when art is actively engaged with the world, its aesthetic quality is necessarily compromised. I, on the other hand, consider that such art is often intensely aesthetic because it is responding compassionately to whatever it touches, it is helping to create a more beautiful world. Artists whose work helps to heal our soulless attitudes towards the physical world have my full respect and attention because, for me, beauty is an activity rather than an entity, a consciousness of, and reverence for, the beauty of the world”.

This is a fertile area for debate. One seldom sees an exhibition which engages with the subject of Beauty, yet there is a great thirst for work that is positive and life enhancing. I believe that beauty resonates with the viewer at a deep level and can carry as dynamic and philosophically relevant a message as art that attacks, shocks or disturbs. Perhaps now is the time to foreground the positive.

My work for the past 30 years has run counter to the mainstream. It is figurative, narrative, personal, philosophically committed, politically engaged, and often beautiful.

I work in the world’s wildernesses – mountains and canyons, rainforests and deserts, the Arctic and the tropics. I make large-scale works on site in some of the world’s most bleak and hostile environments. I have always found in them subjects of great beauty. I incorporate my findings into thematic exhibitions which are staged in museums and galleries in the UK and USA.

In this exhibition I intend to make a series of ambitious paintings. They will be some of the largest I (or anyone else) has ever produced on site – up to 8ft x 4ft. Some will be of subjects internationally accepted as beautiful – Machapuchari in the Nepal Himalaya (agreed by climbers to be the most beautiful mountain in the world); Iguazu Falls (Brazil / Argentina); Autumn Colours in New England; Mt Kailas (Tibet); Arctic Icebergs; Coral Reefs. I will also make a group of works from places I can walk to from my home in Cornwall – evidence that beauty can be found on ones own doorstep.

So far, so predictable, perhaps. But in order to challenge both myself and the viewer I also intend to create a group of works that will address subjects outside my “normal” spectrum. Places that would be considered ugly but where beauty can sometimes be found – Los Angeles at night painted from the hills above; the salt ponds in the Great Salt Lake, Utah; the vast Cornish clay pits.

To prevent this exhibition from being wholly subjective I also intend to invite four well known luminaries in their respective fields – a poet, musician, naturalist and philosopher – to nominate their most beautiful place in the world. I will undertake to work on their chosen site and attempt to see beauty through their eyes.

As with all my exhibitions, the paintings will not merely be renderings of scenery. They will be the result of long engagement, research, and living with my subject. They will incorporate symbolic objects, talismans, maps and notes: and will comment on the political, social and religious milieu in which they are made. Although beautiful, it will not be a group of nicely painted sentimental clichés.

The exhibition will be complete by Spring 2015. My aspiration is that it will open in Britain before showing in US museums and Gerald Peters Galleries in New York and Santa Fe.

Tony Foster
Cornwall September 2012